Movie Review: Buried

by George Hickman on September 25, 2010

in Print Reviews

Fantastic Fest 2010 has started and George Hickman is covering it for Scene-Stealers. His reviews of all the movies he can cram into one week will be published here until the genre-oriented film festival is over and his bloody fingers can type no more. Fantastic Fest Day One – 14 Blades, Let Me In is here. This is installment #2.

Director Rodrigo Cortés was pretty hysterical. He basically teased the audience for showing up to a movie about a guy trapped in a box for 90 minutes, and mentioned that making the film was supposed to be impossible, but that if you wait too long to attempt impossible things, you could be too late because they’ll no longer be impossible.

buried-ryan-reynolds“Buried” opens with about a minute of total blackness and no audio. But just as the audience started to audibly wonder if there was something wrong, the sound of breathing becomes noticeable. The breathing becomes heavier as Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) wakes up and starts to realize something is horribly wrong. His cries are muffled as he thrashes and struggles. The screen remains black until we see the flicker of a lighter illuminate his gagged, bloody face and bound hands.

It’s a perfect opening to a movie that surprisingly does everything right. How do you shoot a movie that takes place entirely in a wooden coffin? How do you light it? How do you even tell a story?

Well you start with casting. And Reynolds gives the performance of his career. You also work out as many ways to shoot as humanly possible and go with only the most creative ideas, including employing several different builds of coffins that allow dramatic camera movements to communicate the protagonist’s emotional state.

buried-ryan-reynoldsAnd you tell a story by utilizing a seemingly conveniently placed and miraculously functional cell phone, then you continue to build tension as the protagonist tries in vain to remember important phone numbers or get anyone on the phone to believe him as he pleads for help over a tenuous cell connection.

Yes, “Buried” does all these things and does them very well. Its greatest triumph is the fact that 90 minutes of a guy in a box actually still feels like a real movie. What could have been nothing more than an interesting but tedious filmic experiment actually sets a new standard in doing more with less. It’s unrelentingly tense, but still finds time for humor and tragedy.

It also serves as an effective commentary on how we’ve become a society utterly dependent on technology as means of communication. The argument could be made that metaphorically we are all buried alive in boxes of our own making as we put up more walls between us and actual human contact. But I wouldn’t go that far. Even if it’s just a movie and not some grand statement or allegory, the fact remains that “Buried” is one of the most effective and tense movies of the year.

Ryan-Reynolds-BuriedAfter the film, the director and star came out for a brief but very funny Q&A. Reynolds talked about how it was probably the roughest 17 days of his life and they shot completely in chronological order with the exception of one reshoot which was necessary because Reynolds did a poor job of lighting himself.

The director also mentioned they had seven separate boxes built, each with different features to aid in filming.

After the Q&A I made a mad dash back to the Drafthouse but unfortunately I was still too late for the screening of “Heartless,” so I called it a night.

Overall it was a fun day with some solid films, but I’m more looking forward to what the coming days bring.

George Hickman

George Hickman is the first child conceived and raised by a sentient television and an anthropomorphic video store. He is a true Texan, in the sense that it is true that he lives in Texas. He spends his days making the Internet work and his nights surviving on the sustenance that only flickering lights and moving pictures can bring. There were no survivors.

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