The high-concept thriller was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s favourite tropes — take a simple overarching idea and add enough bells and whistles to make it deliriously entertaining. I’m not saying that Buried lives up to anything in the master of suspense’s list of efforts, but is certainly a fine little movie that takes a great idea and runs with it.
Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is a truck driver working in Iraq when his convoy is hit by insurgents. However, we don’t see any of this happen. All we learn about this man comes from phone conversations that take place while buried in a coffin. Yep, that’s right. The whole film takes place within a wooden box as Conroy desperately tries to find a way out.
I’m not the kind of guy who scares easily. Sure, clowns are freaky and I have an over-active imagination, but being buried underground is not something that’s very likely to happen and so it doesn’t really hold any fear for me. But what director Rodrigo Cortes and his star manage to achieve is that rare feat of placing the viewer directly into the character’s shoes. By refusing to allow us even a glimpse away from the coffin, that illusion remains throughout and is very powerful. The movie grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me into that box alongside Conroy, where every single one of his whimpers, screams and decisions echo pretty much exactly what I think I’d do in that situation.
That the director chooses to limit the visual scope of the film to the coffin itself is an interesting decision. I’d wondered how he would manage to make the movie appealing enough to the eye but uses every inch of room inside the box to makes sure that it’s a captivating work all round. Just about everything that you think can happen does. There’s even some space for an action scene where Conroy has to resort to desperate measures to stamp out a threat. Bloody show-offs.
Chris Sparling’s script is really smart and allows the entire story to be played out through phone conversations. It plays on those universal annoyances that the person you call won’t pick up as well as the irritation of losing your phone signal. Of course, the stakes are higher for Conroy than most of us, but it’s still a colossal pain when you can’t find any reception. That said, it’s amazing that he can find a signal at all — I can’t get one when I’m on the metro, so I’d really struggle to find one with six feet of dirt above me.
The real star here though is Reynolds. I’ve always been a fan of this guy and it is his intelligent, sympathetic Conroy that really draws us in. He even manages to shoehorn in some of his trademark quips to relieve the tension for a heartbeat or two.
Had it not been for Reynolds, I suspect that this might have disappeared among the vast number of big-idea, low-budget thrillers that thrive in the direct-to-DVD market. But his involvement and performance (along with Cortes’ inventive direction) elevate this to something rather special indeed.