A few years back, I was lucky enough to catch a performance of Nevermore, a one-man stage show starring Jeffrey Combs as the depressed and poverty-stricken poet, Edgar Allen Poe. I never had the opportunity to see something like that before, but it was a beautiful, minimalistic experience, and definitely one that has stuck with me – in fact, I find myself hoping it’ll make it over to my neck of the woods, but that’s bound to never happen. There are very few films that attempt to pull off what the Gordon/Paoli/Combs collaboration did, with only Sleuth and Duncan Jones’ Moon springing to mind initially (even though both have more than one actor in them). Buried, directed by newcomer Rodrigo Cortés, is probably the closest I’ve seen that emulates a similar experience, immersing the audience in terrifying – and somewhat plausible – situation without a traditional use of breaking down the fourth wall, and boasts a performance by Ryan Reynolds that would have him nominated for an Oscar in a perfect world.
Using the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan as a backdrop to the story, Buried begins in total darkness as Paul Conroy (Reynolds), an American trucking contractor, awakens in a box somewhere underneath foreign soil, without any knowledge of who put him there, and more importantly, why. Through the use of excellent sound design and little to no lighting, the audience is given an intimate view of what exactly Paul is experiencing right from the start, and up until he starts piecing together the past few days; they’re as disoriented and in the dark about everything as he is. Cortés uses the concept well, and aside from some far-fetched elements and a few action-oriented moments later on that are used to vary the story and Conroy’s emotional state, it preys upon the fear of being isolated and claustrophobically confined quite brilliantly.
As Conroy begins receiving and making phone calls, story elements begin to come together and the slow-ish pace of the story makes its progression all the more unsettling. It’s at this point the film turns the table on a rampant misconception we’ve had since 9/11: Just like ignorant people accuse every person of middle eastern decent of being a terrorist, Conroy’s kidnappers can’t differentiate between being a contractor who is helping rebuild and someone who is “waging a war on terrorism.” According to the gruff voice on the other side of the phone, it’s impossible for any American to be an innocent bystander, and they intend on pushing forward with their plans of persecution, despite any attempt to reason with them. The bureaucracy of the American government is also explored through his phone calls, as he’s passed from official to official without any real answers or solutions to his problem the entire film. It’s hard to imagine the film without that aspect of frustration, but some scenes become unintentionally comedic because of it, and it makes them feel out of sync.
Lionsgate’s MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode is surprisingly good for a film that is shrouded in darkness for the most part. Colors are desaturated, lighting is almost non-existent, and the palate of hues is limited to a yellow flame and light, a green glow stick, and the blue screen of a cell phone. Still, detail level is high, picking up every drop of blood, grain of dirt, and bead of sweat on Reynolds, as well as the splinters of wood in the coffin. Buried `s visuals are as minimalistic as the film itself, matching the hopelessness of story and creating an emotionally draining experience. The DTS-HD 7.1 mix properly portrays the claustrophobic quarters of the film’s setting. The track isn’t especially robust, or booming, bringing attention to every shuffle and movement inside the box, and if you have surround sound, you’ll actually feel like sand is confining you through all the channels. Victor Reyes’s score is properly balanced with the dialogue, neither overpowering each other, and the contrast between Reynolds’ voice and those heard on the phone is excellent. Sadly, only one special feature is included on the Blu-Ray (not counting the trailer), and a DVD copy of the film accompanies it.
Despite how well Cortés establishes himself as a new voice in horror with Buried, taking what could have been a gimmicky adaptation of Christ Sparling’s excellent script and turning it into a palpable, tense experience, the real standout is Reynolds, who is given the daunting task of carrying the entire film by himself. Pigeonholed as a shmucky lead in dimwitted comedies early in his career, he’s been exploring different roles over the past decade, and because of Buried‘s limitations and unique approach to tackling the thriller/horror genre, it’s a career defining role for him that, much like the film itself, will not be forgotten anytime soon.
Unearthing Buried: The Making Of Buried (17:59) – A truncated video diary of the film’s 17 day stretch, including interviews with almost everyone involved. A lot of it explores the creative process, however there are some really cool tidbits spread throughout (the terrorist is actually voiced by a woman with a voice modulator), and the thoroughness of Cortes in building different boxes to compose some unique shots is ingenious.