Now Playing: ‘Buried’ Is an Exercise in Claustrophobic Screw-Tightening

‘Buried,’ the new Ryan Reynolds thriller, opens with our charismatic actor trapped in a small wooden coffin several feet underground. The rest of the movie takes place in this small space. Literally. If you have a problem with claustrophobia – or are the type easily spooked by small, dark, tight spaces – well, stay at home. For those of you a little more adventurous who don’t mind getting the crap spooked out of you, then ‘Buried’ is ideal. It’s a smartly realized, brilliantly executed suspense piece that will have you dangling at the edge of your seat (and tightly gripping your arm rest) for the entire running time.

Reynolds plays a truck driver in Iraq who’s captured and placed in the box by unnamed insurgents. We never get a good look at his abductors and only hear them sparingly, thanks to a Blackberry they’ve left in the coffin with him. (As a commuter, I’m always at the mercy of my Blackberry battery, but not quite like this.) Reynolds is able to place calls – to his home, and to the company he works for – all to frustratingly few results. As a character, Reynolds is fairly well drawn, but as a symbol for the human casualties that have littered this boneheaded war, he stands for something much larger. He’s just some guy, trying to make money for his family, who gets put through hell by people that aren’t even mad at him, but at the superiors that put his American ass on Iraqi soil. (This thread of political commentary aids the film immensely.)

The “ticking clock” motif is fairly obvious: Reynolds will only live until he runs out of air, until someone pays the insurgents their ransom demands, or he is promptly rescued. It would be downright criminal to give anything away, especially since the plot is so slender, but let’s just say that things go from bad to worse every few minutes. The music is relentless and so is the editing (handled, aptly, by director Rodrigo Cortes himself), bringing you in closer and closer and closer to the plight of our hero.

That’s not to say the entire movie is some dull, extended-episode-of-television thing. Cortes’ camera doesn’t strictly adhere to the physical realities of the coffin. Sometimes it swirls outwardly into space where the dirt would be. Towards the second half of the movie, the point of view also takes on a more impressionistic context. The camera cranes up and reveals a coffin that has, fantastically, grown several feet on each side. The images get even more surreal, but never at the cost of storytelling or suspense. For example, we never see ghostly visions of his family back home or any such crap.

‘Buried’ is a suspense piece with a whole lot going for it: its unerring pace, its great lead performance, and its constant upping of the stakes. It isn’t exactly perfect – some of that aforementioned impressionism leaves the last act a little wobbly – but it’s a cutting, wonderfully told genre gem. It will make you sweat like few big budget Hollywood thrillers, and has a nice satiric bite to it too. It’s the kind of movie that Larry Cohen would have made 30 years ago. And I mean that as the highest kind of complement I can lob at it.

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