Buried opens on a black screen. Soon, there’s a bit of light, from a Zippo, and we discover ourselves trapped in a rough wooden coffin with Paul Conroy. He’s bloodied, gagged and terrified. He can barely move.
Then he starts to scream. And all you can think at first is: That Zippo flame is using up a lot of O2. So is the screaming ...
Some movies end up painting themselves into a corner; Buried opens there. And damned if it doesn’t stay there. The entire film takes place within the tiny confines of this coffin, and Ryan Reynolds — suddenly deeply thrilling as an actor — is the only face on the screen. Soon you’re feeling as boxed-in as Paul is, because this is one of the most horrific, most sickeningly claustrophobic cinematic experiences you’ll ever have.
There is no musical score. There is no CGI, no effects. There is only Paul, alone and scared. And when I say that the film has, as its premise, painted itself into a corner, I mean that only physically. Part of the marvelously nail-biting suspense here comes not merely from worrying for Paul — whether he will get out of the coffin — but in wondering just how the hell screenwriter Chris Sparling and Rodrigo Cortes can up the ante from here, as a film must do. How can things possibly get worse for Paul?
They can, and do. Soon, we learn — no spoilers here — it is October 2006, and Paul is a contractor in Iraq: not a soldier of fortune, just a truck driver. His convoy was ambushed, and he has been kidnapped by Iraqis who demand ransom for his release. He knows this because they’ve left a cell phone in the coffin. Cruelly, it is at Paul’s feet, with hardly any room to move or maneuver to actually get at it. At least it provides a bit of non-oxygen-consuming light — or at least it will for as long as the half-burned-through battery lasts….
Buried is a grueling experience — Reynolds makes Paul’s terror so palpable it becomes almost unbearable. It’s also a thrilling experience: We rarely see movies this adventurous or creative with their narratives, plots and characters. Buried left me feeling unnerved and itchy, and I haven’t been able to shake the sensation yet.