Buried (2010)

Director: Rodrigo Cortes
Cast: Ryan Reynolds
Plot: Paul is a U.S. contractor working in Iraq. After an attack by a group of Iraqis he wakes to find he is buried alive inside a coffin. With only a lighter and a cell phone it's a race against time to escape this claustrophobic death trap.

Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Awards: -
Runtime: 95min
Rating: NC16 for language and some violent content.





2010’s undisputed high concept-low budget thriller, Buried delivers an experience unlike anyone has ever encountered. It fulfills much of its promise, but is sometimes let down by its conformance to the viewer’s gratifying needs. Directed and edited by Rodrigo Cortes, the film centers on only one character throughout the entire film. His name is Paul Conroy (played by a very convincing Ryan Reynolds), and he finds himself in an extremely dire situation that would easily be anyone’s worst nightmare – buried alive in a coffin.

A non-military truck driver working in Iraq, Paul is ambushed and knocked out. He wakes up to find himself trapped in a coffin buried underground in the middle of a desert. He has with him, among other things, a mobile phone with a rapidly depleting battery, a lighter, and a pocket knife. He has ninety minutes to deliver the demands of the “terrorist” who put him there, otherwise he would be left to die in the most traumatizing manner imaginable.

Shot strictly from the perspective of a live person in a coffin, Buried is probably the first film in the history of cinema to have done so for its entire runtime. It is not a breakthrough in the purest sense, but Cortes’ film is certainly a very original (and disturbing) take on the theme of claustrophobia. In such an immobile state, which is the more frightening? Total darkness? Suffocation by the lack of oxygen? Suffocation by sand seeping in? Discovering a large, black snake by your side?

Buried aggregates these phobias, and attempts to create a very harrowing situation in which time becomes the overarching factor affecting the protagonist’s chances of survival. Ninety minutes are all Paul has got, and not surprisingly, that is the runtime of the film. Cortes’ method of building suspense is through manipulating space and time, or rather through the lack of it. The camera ingeniously shows the extent of Paul’s confinement by keeping to only a few angles, even though behind-the-scenes footage show that many of the scenes are shot with various cross-sections of the coffin.

The use of light from a half-functioning torch, lighter, light sticks, and mobile phone for lighting purposes in the film is clever because the effect is at once minimalist, raw, and eerie. Late on in the film, there is a hopeful fantasy sequence by Paul that shows him on the verge of being rescued. In this short sequence, blinding sunlight enters his eyes as the lid of the coffin is removed. As a result, he could not see anyone. Yet could his “inability to see anyone” also be symbolic, like a kind of foreboding prediction of the inevitable?

Would anyone come to Paul’s aid? Scenes showing him frantically dialing emergency numbers only to find that the line is busy, or that the person manning the phone is impatient and not well-equipped to handle the situation, are strong criticisms against the society he is, and by extension, we are raised in – bureaucratic, self-centered, and suspicious. Even though Buried is reasonably suspenseful, there are still moments that are done just for the sake of gratifying the audience (like the abovementioned snake sequence).

Lastly, I would like to point out an interesting observation. In 1948, the great Hitchcock made Rope, a film about two murderers secretly strangling their classmate in his home. They place his dead body in a coffin, and then attempt to camouflage it by converting it into a table. They then invite the victim’s unknowing family and friends over for a small party of sorts.

If Rope represents one end of an arbitrary spectrum, Buried would be in the other. The former deals with a dead person in a coffin surrounded by people. On the other hand, the latter, in an outside-in approach, explores a live person in a coffin surrounded by no one. The dark humor, macabre approach, and suspense filmmaking employed in Buried are lasting testaments of Hitchcock’s enduring influence. It is not the best of cinematic tributes, but it is a unique one nonetheless. 


Click here to go back to Central Station.


Popular Posts