Following the title credits, the film opens with a few minutes of pitch black as we hear coughing and groaning which signify that Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) has awoken to find himself trapped within a wooden box, buried beneath the ground. He screams in confusion and anguish and scratches at the walls for a loose panel but concludes that the box is sealed shut and he has limited time before the oxygen available to him is exhausted. Equipped with only a zippo lighter and an Arabic cell phone, which he discovers when it vibrates, he must try and find a means to escape his prison. Paul first makes a series of calls, trying his wife Linda, the emergency authorities and finally his employers to notify someone of his dire situation. He doesn't have much luck, leaving a message with his wife to call him back, and receiving no cooperation from the FBI, who cut him off. It is revealed through these phone calls that he was a driver of a truck that was transporting supplies for the re-building of Baghdad, and his convoy was ambushed by armed insurgents. With his colleagues killed, he assumes he was the sole one left alive. He scribbles down key numbers on the top of the box with a pencil.
He finally manages to contact his employers, a private service company, who assure him they are aware of his situation from the message he had earlier left and transfer him to a special group stationed in Iraq, set up a few years earlier (in 2004) for such hostage situations. Paul is told that they had successfully rescued a man a few weeks prior who was in a similar life-or-death situation, and that they would do everything they could to try and locate his position by tracking his cell phone, which is quickly losing battery, and suffering from unreliable reception. Meanwhile Paul has been contacted by the leader of the insurgents responsible for his kidnapping and asked to make a ransom video with the phone and ensure that the demanded 1 million dollars (traded for his whereabouts) is transferred. Paul is advised not to make the video to avoid a media scandal, and to save his energy and his battery. Paul is made aware of a bag buried in the base of the box, and inside he finds a torch and some flares, which he utilizes. But there are also a number of incidents within the box that threaten his life. Firstly, a snake enters through a hole in the side, crawls into his clothes and sits at the base of the box ready to strike him. Also, the surrounding area, believed to be occupied by the threatening insurgents, is bombed, causing the ground to shake and the wooden structure to crack and sand to begin seeping through the holes. Paul's oxygen continues to deplete, and he begins to suffer from paranoia and anxiety at the hopelessness of his rescuers and the growing likelihood that he won't survive. When he has all but given up, he is given one last opportunity to save himself. He must cut off his finger on video and send it to the insurgents and they will reveal his whereabouts. The final moments are quite intense, and while the ending is by no means a surprise, it does feature quite a horrific final twist that will leave you glued to your seat during the credits, which feature a strangely out of place musical accompaniment.
The elaborate camera angling is the most impressive technical feature of the film, and Cortes really captures Paul's despair and growing disheartenment with vivid close-ups, but also effectively relays the terrifying claustrophobia of the box. We see Ryan Reynolds from all angles, and it's all energetically edited together. There is also a few point-of-view shots from above the coffin looking down, from a darkness above the space, which really exposes his isolation and helplessness. The lighting is also superbly done, using the natural light from the flame of the zipper lighter and the blue light of his phone. If the phone turns off for whatever reason, Paul, and the audience is plunged into darkness. The phone light balances the tension of the sequence and works well to illuminate Paul's face as most of the dialogue is via exchanges over the phone. The plot, however, has some huge holes and I felt there really wasn't enough to sustain an audience's interest for 90 minutes. Buried, however, does successfully delve into some of humanity's darkest fears; intense claustrophobia and the thought of being buried alive.
With the film's premise to remain with Paul's character for the entire film, the entire story is unraveled through the phone calls, and while there are plot twists that keep the film progressing and evolving, it does run out of ideas. It also makes you wonder for what purpose this film was made, besides it's loose anti-war agenda. I thought it was somewhat episodic also, with minutes of intensity broken apart by idle periods where Paul sleeps or rests. In every conversation with the insurgent leader, I found it difficult to understand what was being said, requiring the repeat back by Ryan Reynold's character to confirm what was asked, which I thought was quite a flaw. It was clever of the filmmakers never to expose who it was that was talking on the end of the line, or a flashback sequence to the original kidnapping, leaving it up to the audience to imagine everything themselves. Just as Paul doesn't know who he is talking to, we are never revealed either. Finally, Ryan Reynolds, who has done some good work, but mostly known for romantic comedies, delivers a pretty convincing emotional performance here. But overall, Buried didn't live up to the immense hype circulating around it, and the flourish of very positive reviews is somewhat puzzling, but it was an interesting experiment that certainly didn't fail to excite.
My Rating: 3 Stars