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Buried (15)

Rachel Winterbottom is left breathless by this man-in-the-box thriller

Written by . Published on October 7th 2010.

Buried (15)

A man wakes bound and gagged inside a buried wooden coffin with only a mobile phone, a hip flask and a lighter with a flair for dramatic timing. As high concepts go, Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés’ indie thriller could be accused of being a lowly gimmick.

From Stephen Tobolowsky’s (Glee and Heroes’ everyman) company exec and evasive hostage expert Dan Brenner (Robert Paterson), to helplines and answerphones; wherever Conroy turns he is faced with the inescapable truth. He is alone.

Considering that the buried individual is Ryan Reynolds, usually known for his smart-mouthed comedy roles and next to be seen sporting lycra in superhero flick Green Lantern, it’s understandably hard to imagine wanting to watch him trying to escape from a box for 95 minutes.

Fortunately for Cortés, Reynolds’ trapped US truck driver, Paul Conroy, is a study in the spectrum of human emotion and suffering. An ordinary man, Conroy’s convoy is targeted by insurgents whilst delivering supplies in Iraq and his fellow truckers are shot. Knocked unconscious, he wakes up inside the box, at first not knowing why he’s been put there, how far he is underground and whether he’s ever going to be set free.

Conroy’s kidnappers reveal themselves by ringing the mobile they’ve left with him, demanding that he make a statement via video phone and pay them $5m for his release. Utterly desperate, as only a man in a box can be, Conroy finally manages to get through to someone who might care, only to find out that the only person who can help him is Dan Davenport, a hostage negotiator who would rather keep the whole incident as low key as possible to avoid any bad press.

This is strictly a one man show. As Conroy, Reynolds bares his raw emotions for his unknown spectators - fear, anger, frustration, relief and hope. His performance is heartbreaking and believable. Maybe it took Reynolds, an actor who excels at dry comic timing, to bring out the humorous side of being trapped in a box with mainly customer service assistants for company.

Other characters exist purely as disembodied voices representing the outside world and highlighting Conroy’s isolation from it. Emitting distantly from the mobile are the sounds of footsteps echoing in hallways, remote chatter and the low hum of televisions; it’s a complete world away from the six foot of space Conroy’s currently occupying and only seems more alien for all of its comfort and familiarity.

With Hitchcockian tension and suspense teamed with the painfully isolating crane shots as the camera pulls away from Reynolds’ Conroy, even the audience is encouraged to abandon him whenever possible. In the end it doesn’t seem to matter whether Conroy manages to speak to his mother, his wife or a machine. From Stephen Tobolowsky’s (Glee and Heroes’ everyman) company exec and evasive hostage expert Dan Brenner (Robert Paterson), to helplines and answerphones; wherever Conroy turns he is faced with the inescapable truth. He is alone.

The question of who put him there ceases to matter (‘Who the fuck cares?’ Conroy puts it bluntly); this isn’t the film’s focus, but its loyalties don’t lie with America either. Conroy is equally screwed over by his all-American company, who would rather that he use his last units of air to record an insurance-waiving message, and the anonymous stranger demanding reparation for what the war has done to his family.

In a film based around minimalism, due must go to the writer, Chris Sparling, who barely has a film credit to his name. Battery life, vibrating ring tones, failing light; under Cortés’ direction he builds tension from every angle. Even the softly falling sand seeping slowly through the cracks acts as a relentless reminder that Conway is trapped in a wooden hour glass. Despite this, Sparling’s script allows Reynolds to eke humour from the dire situation as he negotiates the minefield of customer services and hold music, aware that the clock is ticking.

From the first few minutes of darkness with only Conroy’s tortured breathing for company as horrific realisation dawns, through every twist and turn of the plot, and each phone call hammering another metaphorical nail in a very real coffin, Buried is a masterful and merciless construction of terror and loneliness. With only the occasional blip (Snake in a Box,/i> low-budget follow up for Samuel L.?), Cortés’ film is a twisted little thriller that taps into our darkest fears and refuses to let us come up for air.8/10

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