Buried (Review)

Fortean Times 268

For many – particularly, perhaps, the fairer sex – the prospect of spending 95 minutes trapped in a box with Ryan Reynolds is an inviting prospect. For a cinema audience, however, the experience presented in Buried is certainly a unique one and the result is one of the most intense cinematic experiences in recent memory, even it does feel a bit like an extended Tales of the Unexpected yarn as opposed to a fully-fledged motion picture.

The plot, which is as sparse as the film’s set, sees Reynolds’s Iraq-based US contractor Paul Conroy finding himself buried alive in a coffin following an apparent insurgent attack. Now, armed with just a mobile phone and lighter, he must race against time to escape his deadly situation before time runs out.

It’s a startlingly intelligent starting-point, and one which must be applauded for providing an immediate, visceral hook; with the camera permanently lingering solely on Reynolds’ tortured visage, one instantly sympathises with his dreadful plight and wishes him to survive. Reynolds certainly helps here, expressing as he does startling vulnerability whilst at the same time exhibiting undeniable charm and even moments of warm humour. For an actor to consistently convince and engage over such a period of time, and primarily through a physical performance, is quite an achievement, and Reynolds deserves full credit for carrying the film on his shoulders.

However, it goes without saying that the film’s very premise severely limits it; Buried is as claustrophobic as its protagonist’s unhappy surroundings, and the lack of an on-screen supporting cast or scenery not overlaid with plywood means one is simply left voyeuristically observing Conroy’s suffering, meaning consequently that one can hardly ‘enjoy’ the film in the conventional sense of the word without venturing into the unsettling realm of so-called “torture porn.” The barebones plot doesn’t help matters; although a short amount of time is spent uncovering the reason for Conroy’s situation, the film is crucially lacking in any significant twists or plot developments which might allow it to extend its interest beyond one’s instinctive, primal empathy for Conroy, and its periodically shoehorned “message” relating to the American experience in Iraq quickly becomes irritating.

As a result, Buried comes across paradoxically as an impossibly tense but lightweight experience whose proceedings also have an irritating tendency to drag; despite an instantly arresting opening (bathed mostly in darkness), the middle section sags before picking up for the film’s nerve-wrecking denouement.

Intense, brutal and wickedly cruel, Buried may offer a hard-to-shake trip to the cinema but is probably not an experience you’d be keen to relive. Despite obvious hardwired shortcomings, the film is carried by Reynolds’ impressive one-man-show and the sheer gall of its central premise.

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