This disappointing thriller from Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés is high in concept but low in imagination. Tipping its hat almost immediately to the ‘master of suspense’ with a Saul Bass inspired opening credits sequence and Bernard Herrman-esque score, it’s about as far as the Hitchock comparison goes unfortunately. Feeling seriously padded at just 95 minutes, it’s let down by Cortés’ nervous over-direction and some predictable narrative contrivances.
Ryan Reynolds is good as the civilian contractor in Iraq, ambushed and buried alive. We don’t leave the confines of the coffin for the duration of the film, in theory a bold choice that should serve to ramp up a sense of claustrophobia, but Cortés can’t seem to keep his camera still for long enough for suspense to build out of the location naturally. He pushes through the ‘fourth wall’ with the camera, creating well-composed but counter-productive shots that look great but dissipate any tension held within the frame. Just when you’re beginning to gasp for air yourself, he pulls back the camera and gives it to you. I don’t think there was an angle of the coffin not covered by Cortés, and his twitchy editing coupled with an excessive use of music meant it all became rather one note quite quickly.
My biggest hurdle of believability however, was the astonishingly inept voice acting which we hear through Reynolds’ mobile phone, the Iraqi that buried him sounds like a terrorist from Team America : World Police, and the English counter-terrorism agent trying to rescue him has a flatness of delivery completely at odds with the situation, like a hypnotised Julian Sands.
The narrative itself is slight, time is mostly spent with Reynolds making frantic phone calls or trying to find a signal, aware that the battery is running out. He’s mysteriously provided with all sorts of convenient props, like some alcohol for when he has to set fire to a snake (reaching a bit with that one!), or the various coffin lighting solutions he has to choose between, but he’s a pretty passive protagonist and whilst it does begin to build suspense as the box loses integrity and soil begins to pour in, the ending’s a cop-out.
Vastly inferior to Quentin Tarantino’s gripping and playful episode of CSI, Grave Danger (2005), based on a similar concept (recycled again in Kill Bill vol.2, 2004), it also suffers in comparison to the suffocating surprise of George Sluizer’s The Vanishing (1988). The Iraq setting is little more than a convenient enabler of the plot mechanics, and the few facile reductions it does offer on war or occupation are as broadly drawn as the two-dimensional characterisation.
I was more impressed by this month’s other single-location high-concept thriller, Adam Green’s Frozen, featuring three teens stuck 50ft in the air on a freezing ski-lift chair. Its effective mounting of tension and credibly drawn characters had me on the edge of my seat. Buried is passable stuff, but I’ve seen it done better elsewhere and with an air of sentiment clouding one of terror felt like an opportunity missed.
Buried – 2010 – Spain – 95 mins – Dir : Rodrigo Cortés