It’s a nightmare shared by tens of millions of people, and something that regularly tops the list of the worst possible ways to die, but for Paul Conroy the nightmare is about to become a reality; as he’s wakes up to find he’s been buried alive, and is likely facing a slow and terrifying death.
Diving straight into the terrifying situation that Paul (who’s played by Smokin’ Aces’ Ryan Reynolds) finds himself in, Buried skips the part showing us exactly how Paul ended up in his rather unsettling predicament, and begins with him waking up in the pitch black, banging his head, and suddenly realizing that’s he’s now trapped underground and facing certain death, before rightly beginning to panic, and freak out quite considerably.
The rest of the film’s hour-and-a-half runtime is then basically a string of sequences in which Paul freaks out some more, panics, and attempts to hurriedly find a way out of his coffin before his already dwindling air supply runs out; something that may not be as difficult as you’d first image, seen as how his tormentors left a number of goodies in the coffin for him to use.
Paul quickly discovers he’s been buried along with a cellphone, and a couple of others bits and bobs (including a hip flask, a lighter, and a pencil), and begins to frantically call whoever he can for help, but soon runs into a number of roadblocks; with one of the biggest being simple bureaucracy.
It turns out Paul was a truck driver working for a private company, delivering goods in Iraq, and as he phones the company he worked for, the State Department, and a group who’s specific job it is to find people who have been kidnapped, he becomes rightfully frustrated with many people’s apparent lack of empathy and unwillingness to help; as he’s put on hold several times, asked a host of stupid questions, and generally shown a lack of interest; while he’s racing to survive, and attempting to give the strangers on the other end of the phone (who happen to be his only chance of survival) any clues he can that will aid in his rescue.
Buried is therefore a simple waiting game; as Paul only has so much air, so much life in his cellphone battery, and only so much information he can tell the voices on the phone (because how can you tell where you are when you wake up in a box, underground); but the amazing thing about it is how, despite the unusual method of showing nothing except the inside of the coffin (there literally isn’t a single shot taken from anywhere else, a flashback, or even a face to the voices on the phone), it never becomes boring, as you don’t find yourself waiting for something to happen, but living the horror that Paul is experiencing.
It’d be easy for a film set in a single location to become boring (especially a location that’s barely big enough for a person), but there’s not a single dull scene in Buried; as director Rodrigo Cortés (The Contestant) manages to not only keep the visuals interesting (by using more shots that anyone could have imagined would have been possible in such a confined space), but constantly amping up the movie’s tension throughout, and delivering a real masterclass in suspense that’s so original and gripping, it’s completely enthralling, utterly engrossing, and so mesmerizing it’s impossible not to be drawn in.
And being such a confined and claustrophobic film that spends an hour-and-a-half basically looking at one actors face, it would have instantly failed had the lead actor’s performance not been spot-on; something which thankfully wasn’t the case here, as Reynolds is brilliant, captivating, and delivers a performance that’s totally raw, and so realistic it should serve as the only casting tape he ever needs to send out.
As thriller’s go, Buried is just fantastic; it’s a wholly original concept (as while the buried alive story has been done before, it’s never been tackled in such a daring way; refusing to move from the confines of Paul’s potential resting place) that works brilliantly, is well anchored by a superb performance from the film’s lead actor, and is so real and engrossing it’s bound to mesmerize anyone who’s ever thought about how horrible it would be to be buried alive.
Considering the setting, Buried was never going to boast the same range of colours, depth, and expansive imagery, that movies like Avatar or even the Expendables manage to achieve, but despite its intentionally limited scope it has a rather impressive transfer; as fine detail is impeccable, black levels (which are possibly the most important thing when viewing a film that’s literally drowned in darkness) are superb, and the medium level of grain is both intentional and provides a distressed look which only adds to the already high level of tension.
It’s impossible to accurately gauge flesh-tones while watching Buried, as every image is bathed in a rather strong colour; be it the oranges emanating from a lighter, the green of a glow stick, or the blue light from a mobile phone; yet they appear to be close enough, and simply highlight the strong colour reproduction, which helps to create an impressive transfer that’s bound to please.
As with the video quality, one would have expected the audio for Buried to be quite limited; seen as how the whole film take place in such a confined space, and doesn’t offer too much scope for surround usage; however that’s far from the case, as not only is the dialogue (which obviously comes pretty much entirely from the front and center of the soundfield) perfectly crisp, always clear, and excellently leveled, but there’s a good deal of surround usage (usually with Paul’s thuds and bangs on the inside of his coffin spreading outwards, and noise of sand particles shifting above his head), as well as some weighty and impactful bass (again generally emanating from Paul hammering on the inside of the coffin).
There’s no denying that Buried’s audio has its limitations, although the mix somehow manages to become wholly engrossing, and feel totally realistic; creating a sound-space that feels awfully confined, and claustrophobic; whilst doing everything as it should, often becoming more important than the film’s visuals (when the lights go out), and ensuring that no fan will be disappointed by the sounds on offer.
Like Paul’s chances for survival, the special features on the Buried DVD are severely limited, and only consist of a short making of featurette, titled Unearthing Buried; which consists of interviews, behind the scenes footage, and clips of the film, and aside from seeing the different coffin designs, and way in which the various camera tricks were achieved, is fairly average; and an interview with director Rodrigo Cortés; discussing what attracted him to the film, choosing Ryan, and shooting difficulties among other things; as well as a theatrical trailer, which may all be interesting in their own right, but don’t amount to too much extra viewing.
Fans may be disappointed in the apparent lack of bonus content on the disc; especially the absence of a much desired audio commentary; but given Buried’s low budget roots, extremely fast shooting schedule (the whole movie was filmed in only 17 days), there’s little else that could have been included, and not a whole lot of extra information they could have given; meaning that while the special features may look slim, they’re actually quite respectable.
The Bottom Line:
It’s hard to describe how good Buried is; because unless you’ve got a massive crush on Ryan Reynolds the thought of spending an hour-and-a-half simply staring at one actor, in an immensely dark and claustrophobic setting, doesn’t sound too appealing, and it’s hard to imagine how a film about a man lying down in a box could stay interesting; but Cortés has managed to create a film so thrilling, so real, and so tense it’ll leave you breathless, stop your heart, and practically place you in the coffin as well.
Both the video and audio quality on the Buried DVD were of a surprisingly high quality; given its low budget, and limited nature; and whilst there may not be an abundance on bonus materials, there’s enough background information to shed some light on the most interesting aspects of production, and please a few fans.
Buried surely isn’t for the faint of heart; it’s nail-biting tension at it’s best, and the very epitome of suspense; but it’s hard to think of anyone that won’t enjoy watching it, because it’s so captivating, and effectively plays on every viewers emotions, by posing a question we’ve all asked at one time or another; what would it be liked to really be buried alive?
Buried comes highly recommend, and would be a sound blind buy for just about anyone (be they a lover of tense thrillers or not), but is a film that should only be watched in a pitch black room (to heighten the feeling of claustrophobia).