3 Stars out of 4
What Rodrigo Cortés’s Buried does best is trap you. The camera shifts to different positions but all are relatively enclosed in the box. Buried is about claustrophobia and straining suspense. We’ll never know more or less than Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) which is what drives the film – the audience demands an answer from this shocking situation.
Buried’s poster has the whirligig features of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Nevertheless, Buried is much different; it does develop obsession, paralyzing fascination, and abrupt scenarios, but it’s not about the fear of falling but about remaining fixed – parched, alone, and suffocating. This intensity alone makes Buried work and also bestow terrific entertainment. It’s 95 minutes long, but it does not feel too long or too short. It’s under a taut narrative that hurdles it past any lag points and drives towards a breath-taking conclusion.
Critics have been flabbergasted by Reynolds’s performance. But I’m not one to laud it. He’s good; you believe his character Paul is facing adversity, is running out of breath, and is truly desperate to escape a box that seems to enshroud his psychological process. There are times, however, when this feels like Reynolds Dramaturgy 101. Because Reynolds is working with one expression: look scared. And he does. But the conceit should not ringing Oscar bells.
Buried somehow avoids the monotony of a one-location. Cortés explores every dimension of this box – he even suspends his space by spiralling upwards to expose the depth of the coffin – which seems to be ensnared in a subsurface abyss. But picture this: being stuck, winded, and buried below a sandy-remote Iraq desert.
And who could deny the film’s tension? Anyone can admit that being buried alive is never a pleasant fantasy? This concept works. So does the film. To an extent that Cortés’s musical score (composed by Victor Reyes) is a conventional distraction. It plays to sear us, but instead it vexes. What would have been spellbinding is no music – as clearly this tight space could not occupy any noise (even Reynolds’s cries shrivels up to a quivering hush). The music wants to move the action forward, but the narrative, which overruns the film (Hitchcock, granted, was always a fan of lofty narratives), propels the film as more of an account than a psychological endeavour.
But Buried is fixating. It does not have the foreboding zest of Danny Boyle’s newly released 127 Hours, but I think the two are apples and oranges. 127 Hours is about a man, Aron Ralston, we knew would survive his travesty (with Paul we are never quite sure). It was important to maintain a visual analysis of his psychosis because Boyle’s intent was to create action out of the apparently inert.
Buried is confined by its will to tell – dramatize. It won’t penetrate the thoughts of Reynolds because his relentless Hollywood figure is foretold. This film still grabs you and puts you in that box. Meanwhile, Cortés, his feature directorial debut, still manages to not only maintain but extend a style which forces us to be Paul too. Who knows, we may or may not survive.