Directed by Rodrigo Cortés
What’s your biggest fear? Maybe it’s those loathsome arachnids? Or perhaps those lunatic daubed clowns? The common concern of an aircraft engine failure? A Uwe Boll video game adaptation movie-marathon? Or is it being buried alive, to suffer an agonizing, choking fate, isolated and inevitable, in the dark? In director Rodrigo Cortés new film Buried, this nightmare scenario is explored to asphyxiating effect, the film serving as an efficient replacement for Frightfest’s twisted crowd on Sunday night following the inevitable withdrawal of A Serbian Film due to the UK’s most visible censorship wrangle since Cronenberg’s Crash fell similarly afoul of Westminster Council’s puritanical standards back in 1996. The claustrophobic Buried effectively plugged the hole in the festival schedule, leaving its viewers panting and gasping for air as the closing credits scrolled after an hour and a half of terrifying terrain.
After a few seconds of tense, uncertain moaning from a pitch-dark screen, a sputtering light ignites to illuminate a terrifying prospect: civilian contractor Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) has been buried alive in a constricting wooden box, the dimensions of which restrict him from moving his body more than a few inches, his slow comprehension leading to a petrified realization. Entombed with Paul is a trio of utensils – his Zippo, a pen and mobile phone with a decaying battery – these three tools being his only potential hope of rescue. It emerges that following an insurgent assault on his engineering supply convoy Paul was knocked unconscious and his colleagues were shot, an increasingly merciful fate given his precarious situation. Soon the terrorists contact Paul through the phone and demand that he co-ordinate a $5 million ransom demand with the US government, an impossible task given his relative insignificance and the administration’s aversion to negotiating with their foes. As time runs out and his oxygen supply depletes, Paul embarks on a desperate mission to save his life.
From the Saul Bass inspired, cascading titles it’s evident that the master of suspense would be proud; one can quite clearly imagine an intrigued Hitchcock mining Buried’s foundations for all their anxious credentials. It is quite an achievement to craft a full 90 minutes of tense, nervous atmosphere from such a restrictive location, but Cortés manages to keep his camerawork fluid and engrossing, the tension ratchets up as the plot develops and an incremental understanding and sympathy for our blue-collar victim emerges – he was simply the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. The film makes some allusions to the alternate horrors of a corporately minded, out-sourced battle-field, and the dulcet tones of a voice cameo from Stephen Tobolowky should satisfy the cult movie crowd. It is the ingenuity of screenwriter Chris Sparling that keeps proceedings tunneling along, although one sequence seems a little contrived and serves as little more than padding to expand the film’s run-time. Buried evokes the Stephen King short stories of his Skeleton Crew era and their EC comic progenitors, in that it is a tight, compact tale of terror that deftly explores its congested criteria – given its proximity to some headline making real-world horrors one assumes that this is a film that won’t be picking up a distribution deal in Chile.