Rodrigo Cortés Delivers a Box Full of Suspense with 'Buried'
by Ethan Anderton
September 20, 2010
The frustration of bullshit bureaucracy has slowly taken over quality customer service and logical assistance from the corporations and organizations that provide our most basic services. It's hard to believe, but in Rodrigo Cortés' Buried the familiar long-winded customer service call is a matter of life or death for Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), a truck driver for military supplies in Iraq who has woken up to find himself buried alive with only a cell phone, a Zippo lighter, glowsticks, a shitty flashlight and all odds against him. As I found myself inside the wooden coffin from a theater in downtown Chicago, I was on the edge of my seat until the very end. Read on!
The fact that an entire 90-minute feature stays in one confined and isolated location for its entire duration (no flashbacks, no cut-aways, no escape) is an achievement in itself. But when that same film is as captivating, suspenseful and genuinely terrifying as Buried, that's a triumph in cinema. For years this Black Listed script had been considered impossible to film, but with 17 days of shooting, seven different wooden coffins and some psychological wear and tear on Reynolds himself, Rodrigo Cortés has crafted a thrilling, intense, freight train of suspense that just happens to be stuck several feet underground.
From a dying cell phone battery, to some of the most insufferable customer service and government employees, the hits just keep on coming as Conroy unravels the mystery behind his underground state. A greedy terrorist has taken several American contractors hostage in order to negotiate a ransom from the government, and he's not letting them go anytime soon. As Conroy tries every contact imaginable from a provided cell phone (it's not his own and the language on the device is Arabic) frantically trying to find someone who can find him and get him out. You've never been so exasperated and enraged by the sound of a voicemail prompt. Even the voices that you heard on the other end of the phone often insight more anger than relief.
Fortunately, the darkness of the enclosed space comes and goes like his sources of light as Reynolds does a great job of sparingly lightening up the suspense with a couple hilarious exclamations of frustration in between absolute panic. It's these moments more than his outright fear that make the film so distressing simply because he's an everyman character that could be anyone of our friends or relatives But just like Conroy's space, there's little breathing room for tenderness or laughs between the heart-pounding anticipation as a unit specifically assigned to locate kidnapped Americans in Iraq is on the hunt for Conroy and his kidnappers. Making the suspense even more unbearable is an amazing Hitchcockian score (which also plays over an awesome opening credit sequence) that makes you feel like you're watching a big blockbuster action movie unfold.
Clearly Cortés' direction in this film goes beyond telling Reynolds to be scared and setting up the camera and walking away as Reynolds moves inside the coffin because more often than not, the camera is moving into every possible crevasse of the enclosed space. Even more credit goes to Reynolds as he seems to work himself into every possible corner of his grave. While that doesn't seem like a difficult task inside a wooden box, you'll have to see the flick to understand what I'm saying. The collective audience even seems to be pushing around inside the box along with Reynolds as groans and the sound of shifting bodies could be heard around the theater. Essentially, you'll have to try very hard to sit still as Buried unfolds.
The film is a relentless experience of anxiety and tension that will exhaust your mind. Sitting in a dark theater with a full crowd, you can hear a pin drop at the most pivotal moments of the film as every single person is waiting for hope on the other end of the cell phone or mere feet above the piles of Earth on top of the coffin. Gasps for air from Conroy are coupled with gasps of shock and awe from the audience. You'd be doing yourself a great disservice if you missed out on this unique and innovative story that may make you even more scared of being buried alive and hungrier than ever for the next project from Rodrigo Cortés.