By Scott Martin
Buried, Spain / USA / France, 2010
Directed by Rodrigo Cortes
I’m always more interested in suspense films or horror films that tap into universal fears and the things that could actually happen to us, rather than the supernatural. For instance, films like John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) or Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), while excellent films in their own right, are more escapist nightmares than things right outside your door. It’s films like Buried, however, that recharge my faith in modern horror/thriller cinema. Director Rodrigo Cortes takes one of our most common fears and puts it to extraordinarily effective use. There’s a political message, a bit of a love story, family stories, a thriller, and a horror movie, all stuffed into a box. And just a box. For 90 minutes.
I read an early review that stated how proud of the film Alfred Hitchcock would be. I think that’s a bit like Julie assuming that Julia would love her blog in Julie & Julia (2009). Cortes invokes a similar passion as Hitchcock might have had for his films, but the result is almost incomparable. The majority of Hitchcock’s films, especially post-silent era, were made with a regal air; they feel classic, from frame one, as they should. Buried, on the other hand, knows it’s underground (literally!) and a sort of neo-noir/neo-grindhouse picture. This isn’t a knock on it at all, I thoroughly enjoyed it, much like I’m sure Julie was a great cook, but just because you’ve read Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or just because you studied Lifeboat (1944), that doesn’t mean you’re toe to toe with the master. You’re good, especially in your time, but the comparison is almost unfair.
Paul (Ryan Reynolds) is an American truck driver, working with the military in Iraq. It’s important to note that he is not a member of the military, as he tells us and his captors multiple times. We don’t see the attack; our back story is given to us in frightened monologues. He awakes in the middle of the night, or it could be day, in the middle of the desert, or it could be a basement, in a coffin. The only reason he knows he’s in a coffin is because he has little to no room to move, and because he’s told so by the Iraqis on the other end of the phone.
Again, I really enjoyed Buried. I think it’s a breath of fresh air considering what we’re offered as horror/thriller/what-have-you films these days: remake after remake, sequel after sequel, or the newest line of torture porn. Here’s a film that knows what it wants – there isn’t an opportunity for a sequel, it’s a story that has been done before and will be done again, so it can’t really be strictly remade (unless Gus Van Sant wants to try), and it is torture porn, but it’s the “softcore,” believable kind. No traps or disembowelment, just a director forcing his audience to reckon with a terrible event, and be there with his character. The result on the man is torturous.
Much of the film’s success is owed to Ryan Reynolds, who puts on a one man show with more gusto than he’s shown on film before. It’s eye opening, for those who want to see the actor in a new light. Obviously, he’s no stranger to more dramatic fare, but he’s never had the weight of a film rest completely on his shoulders before. If he doesn’t work, the film breaks. It’s a brave performance that takes a lot of mental preparation, his career best, so far. His performance is touching, riveting, paced, and natural to boot; alarmingly intelligent work, and proof that he has a long future ahead of him. As a man locked in a coffin with only a lighter and a cell phone at his immediate disposal, he creates a fully fleshed character with little to no elbow room to play around. He isn’t given the opportunity to chew his scenery or act off of others. The film is peppered with small voice-overs that come from the other end of his cell phone, and the rest is up to the editing and Reynolds, mostly Reynolds. And he succeeds.
Hitchcock might be proud, there’s no telling, but mostly he might just be thankful that a well made, accessible thriller came out recently. I know I am.
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com