(A re-run of our review from this year’s FrightFest as ‘Buried’ is released in the U.K. today)
FrightFest disappointed me on my third and final outing. The controversial ‘A Serbian Film’ had been pulled, it was announced, because enforced editing changes could not be completed in time to get certification.
The film, an allegory for recent Serbian history which plays out in the form of a retired porn star called in for one last job that just gets more and more messed up, reportedly contains some horrific imagery which extends as deep down as to include (ahem, dare I write this) sex with a baby.
As an exponent of freedom of expression, I was mildly irked at Westminster Council for censoring the festival, but as a man with strong moral opinions I was a little relieved to have dodged such sickening viewings. And with such mixed feelings I sunk into my seat to watch the film which Icon had so kindly stepped up to supply in its stead: Buried.
Although a tamer affair by all account (not that it’s easier to get more extreme than A Serbian Film), Buried was nonetheless an interesting prospect.
It centres on Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), a truck driver working in Iraq. But it’s no ordinary terror-based thriller, because it is all set in the coffin that Paul was buried alive in when his convoy was ambushed.
Left with only a few items to comfort him including, usefully, a mobile phone, Paul desperately sets about trying to escape his tomb beneath the desert sands. He calls everyone from family and friends to corporate connections and the FBI, all of whom have their own approach to the situation, and their own ideas about what they can and can’t do to help him.
The genius of this film is that it never once betrays its concept. There are no convenient flashbacks to the attack on the convoy, no dreams of home as he escapes the darkness with a moment of sleep and no cuts to bureaucrats in suits ‘doing their best’ to get him out whilst talking to the authorities about how to ‘contain the situation’. No, Ryan Reynolds and some talented voice actors are left to create all of the drama on their own: and Reynolds rises to the occasion in spectacular fashion.
The carefully composed script leads him expertly through a series of situations in which he somehow, within the confines of his tiny set, expresses an enormous range of emotion from the dark comedy of his acceptance of the situation to sheer rage at the incompetence of some of the people he is turning to for help. If course, the best bits are the panic and terror that come when his captor contacts him, seeking harsher and harsher demands in exchange for the promise of sweet freedom.
In these scenes Reynolds, aided by the claustrophobic feel director Rodrigo Cortés does so well in not breaking, drags us down with him to the depths of panic and despair. Only the occasionally contrived scene breaks this sense that you are locked in this box with him (one of them is a snake getting in and it’s a bit silly) and so on the whole this is a gut-achingly tense suspense thriller.
Among the arsenal of effects that Cortés deploys to maintain both tension and interest is a series of different light sources. Naturally Conroy’s trusty lighter takes the lead her for that authentic ‘stuck in a spooky place’ feel, but the eerie blue phone light and a glow stick do admirably well at changing the mood as we shift from hope to despair, rage to dark humour. Likewise some clever shots show us the feel of the moment when a half-lit close-up can’t function properly.
It’s all superbly put together. Though you should be warned, as it barrels towards a brilliantly suspenseful conclusion there is a fair bit of politicking. A predictable commentary on the plight of the ordinary man during wartime creeps in amidst the fantastically scripted dialogues with his potential saviours, so if you like your suspense politics-free then you should steer clear.
But that’s the only real problem I saw in a film that was visually inventive, brilliantly acted and generally a perfect example of how to create tension on the big screen. This last minute addition could well be Fright Fest’s hidden gem…
Buried is released today in the U.K.
This article was first posted on September 29, 2010