by Sean Lechowicz, Freelancer
Modern horror films, such as the Saw films, consistently get slammed by critics for their misanthropic and nihilistic tone. Human beings (albeit fictional ones) are used as play things, fun to break and then throw in the garbage. Finally, Buried comes along and reminds us how to be truly terrified, not because there is an extraordinarily high body count, but because it instills real human emotion. Ever been physically trapped inside a wooden box? Well, you’re about to.
Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), a truck driver stationed in Iraq, wakes up in a coffin underground. A functioning cell phone rings, informing him that he has been kidnapped by Iraqi freedom fighters. Paul must use the limited supplies he’s been buried with to escape an ugly death.
Director Rodrigo Cortes achieved the impossible. He made a movie about a single man in a box one of the most suspenseful pieces ever put on film. Terrorist kidnapping, desert snake attacks, and infidelity: all inside a wooden coffin. Reynolds may be the only face we see, but he has interaction with plenty of characters on the cell phone. Amongst the characters is Dan Brenner (Robert Paterson), a hostage negotiator that walks Paul through his hardship. Brenner is a bold statement on how the government cares more about P.R. than an American faced with death.
Cortes’ one misstep occurs not as a director, but as the editor of the film. Every once and a while, he’ll throw in a corny bit of slow-mo to spike the whole emotional purging occurring on screen. You think he’s going to lose control of the pacing with such tired techniques, then he hits you with another emotional sucker punch and you can’t help but love him again.
Reynolds strips himself naked on screen, giving every single bit of humanity he has to offer. His portrayal of Paul will have you screaming, laughing, and close to weeping. Such range is rare in an actor, let alone an actor who’s only bouncing off voices from a phone. No matter if you see Ryan Reynolds as Van Wilder or the dude battling with Sandra Bullock, after this 94 minutes is through you’ll only see him as the best actor of 2010.
Reynolds’ A-list looks are hardly noticeable while he’s mostly being shot at extremely close angles. This guy is so close that the audience can nearly smell him. He’s not an assassin or any sort of criminal, he’s merely blue-collar man trying to serve his country. Such a character is easily identifiable, and it’s not settling to emotionally identify with a character put in such a heartbreaking position.
The film recreates an unthinkable nightmare with an experimental set up, yet the biggest surprise comes from the fact that it functions like a Hollywood film. Any other filmmaker would have kept to wide shots and without a musical score. Buried makes use of an orchestral score as opposed to silence. If it weren’t for Victor Reyes’ enthralling composition, this film would send people to a mental institution, it reminds each and every one of us that what we are seeing is make believe.
Cortes proposes audiences don’t find fear watching nameless devices reach their demise; they want bleeding heart humans with layers. Buried isn’t just a clinic on how to make horror, but a clinic on how to engage an audience visually, emotionally and physically. This film grabs you by the throat and drags you through the mud. Then, when you feel like running out of the theater in terror, it opens up its heart and tests you even more. Folks, that’s not just called horror filmmaking, that’s just plain old filmmaking.