I’ve always felt that the scariest movies aren’t the ones where teenagers are hacked to bits, zombies plague small towns, or innocent people are senselessly tortured in elaborate fashions. The thrillers that truly evoke fear are grounded in reality and put the audience under possible, vulnerable circumstances. That’s why the infamous shower scene in Psycho and the opening shark attack in Jaws still give people chills after all these years. Buried takes its viewers on a man’s journey to survive one of the most horrifying experiences imaginable. Not only is the audience genuinely frightened, viewers can also begin to consider what it would be like to actually endure the events on screen.
As the opening credits finish, the film fades to pitch black. We hear somebody heavily breathing in a struggle. The man lights a lighter to reveal he is in a wooden coffin, buried underground. This man is Paul Conroy, a contractor played by Ryan Reynolds. While working in Iraq Paul was attacked by a group of terrorists and is now being held for ransom. Paul is given limited supplies, which includes a cell phone he uses to contact his family, the police and the FBI. A majority of them either don’t pick up or put him on hold. The only person that might be able to help Paul is a man named Dan Brenner, played by Robert Paterson. But Paul isn’t entirely sure Dan’s intentions are to find him or cover up the incident.
Like the rest of the film’s supporting cast we only hear Dan’s voice, never seeing his face. The movie sticks with Reynolds from beginning to end, and it’s a spectacular turn from the young actor. I’ve enjoyed Reynolds sarcastic charm in comedies like Definitely, Maybe and The Proposal. In Buried he gives the most complete and unexpected performance of his career. Reynolds captures the horror, chaos and dread of his characters predicament without fault. Occasionally he even supplies the film with a mild dark sense of humor. Although this might be an unlikely part for him to play, Reynolds is completely convincing as he goes through the motions and keeps the audience invested all the way through.
It would be easy for a movie that takes place in one setting to become old after 30 minutes, especially one as confined as a coffin. There’s not a tedious moment in Buried though. The filmmakers continually come up with ways to top themselves as Paul’s condition becomes deadlier and deadlier. Director Rodrigo Cortes and cinematographer Eduard Grau shoot the film from various angles to provide different perspectives of panic. Picture the intensity and claustrophobic feeling of the coffin scene in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 stretched to 95 minutes. Unlike Uma Thurman’s character though, Paul can’t chop his way out of the coffin and must rely on strangers to rescue him.
If you had problems with movies like Open Water and The Blair Witch Project you might find Buried to be a snuff film. In the hands of another director and another screenwriter this premise might have been a cheap gimmick. However, the film kept my heart pounding all the way through as I contemplated what would happen next. Buried also further demonstrates that fear doesn’t always come from bloodshed. There are only one or two graphically violent scenes in the movie and even then the gore is quick and doesn’t call attention to itself. Like the most memorable thrillers, the terror of Buried is all in the audience’s psyche. Walking out of this movie, being buried alive will skyrocket to the top of your list of fears.