(Buried, Rodrigo Cortes, Spain, USA, France, 2010, 95 minutes)
[Warning this review does reveal key plot points]
Buried is a claustrophobic, intense thriller that’ll have viewers frustrated and writhing in their seats. Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is an American truck driver, delivering supplies in Iraq for a CRT contractor company, when his convoy is attacked. Knocked unconscious by a rock, Conroy awakes buried underground in the Iraq desert –buried alive in a wooden coffin. Conroy is completely alone except for a mobile phone, flashlight and lighter. Remarkably, the entirety of the film’s ninety-five minute runtime is filmed within this dark, confined space, and as the oxygen level drops and the phone battery decreases – it appears Conroy only has minutes to locate help.
Rodrigo Cortes directs a fascinating storyline here, in which only one actor (Reynolds) is physically present – but in which many other characters including his wife, Linda (Samantha Mathis), a specialist in abduction, Dan Brenner (Robert Paterson) and the disturbing voice of his abductor, Jabir (Jose Luis Garcia Perez) are heard via the mobile phone. Surprisingly, the absence of these characters’ physicality’s isn’t missed – instead, the viewer is allowed free-rein to interpret the characters’ in their own imagination – creating an image of the person via their voice. This is an unusual technique, but a highly effective one.
In terms of location, primarily, I was concerned that the constant use of the coffin as the film’s location for events would be a little claustrophobic and inaccessible for the viewer. In retrospect, this only adds to the atmosphere of the film: the viewer is as confined in their viewing as Conroy is in his coffin. Cortes implements key cinematic techniques in the filming of Buried. The use of darkness and of silence is particularly notable, as they suggest the true reality and isolation of Conroy’s situation. The flickering light of the lighter and unstable beam of the flashlight could be seen as a symbol for the film’s denouement itself; the light (life) may flicker and at times become strong, but eventually the darkness (death) does conquer. The film also brings into focus the strength of human’s reliability on technology. Not only are we a generation that are stubbornly attached to our mobile phones, but it shows how the manipulation of the internet, specifically YouTube, can be used for the advertisement of ransom videos.
However, there is a strange sense of comforting normality referred to during the film’s duration. Technology, though brilliant, still has its frustrating qualities, especially in highly pressurising situations. Conroy loses his temper several times in conversations with friends, especially when they pay no heed to the danger and importance of his prior situation. Ironically, though the mobile is for communication – Conroy is failing to communicate successfully. This idea is only strengthened by the maddening music he is forced to listen to when put on hold, numerous times I might add, when trying to contact the CRT, FBI or state department office to relate his dire situation. On a regular basis this type of situation can be annoying, but in the state Conroy is in, it has the potential to push you over the edge.
The only way to describe Buried’s emotional impact is by referring it to the old-school children’s toy the yo-yo. You are constantly up, and then down, up and then down (with what seems the potential to start you into cardiac arrest). The final blow however is the one Cortes throws in the last few remaining minutes of the film. Dan Brenner is on the phone and believed to be minutes from establishing Conroy’s location; at this point your heart is beating widely and all hope is up in the air and clinging to the clouds. They’re digging, and shovelling the sand away; they’re breaking through the wood of the coffin and plying the top up…and it isn’t Conroy they find, it’s somebody else. Sickeningly, this is minutes after Conroy makes an emotional call to his wife, who having finally picked up the phone, is excessively distressed, and begs for his return home. All the while the sand is filling in the restricted air space in Conroy’s coffin and suffocating Conroy and any hope that may have survived.
I want to say this is a ‘must-see’, a ‘thriller’ that will have you wanting more, but I can’t quite say it. As the closing credit’s slipped wearily down the screen I felt distinctly troubled and frustrated. One can appreciate the controversial ending – where good does not overcome evil, but usually, usually there is a small bit of hope, a tiny, teeny light that keeps burning. Here, the light has been extinguished, completely, but that just serves to prove the reality of this film and what it is explaining to its audience. To finish: you could compare it to 2011’s 127 Hours. It’s just Aron Ralston (James Franco) would still be there now with his arm stuck behind that rock.