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Review: ‘Buried’

Thinking Inside the Box

Ryan Reynolds is

Credit: Lionsgate

Above: Ryan Reynolds is "Buried."

A part of me feels like why waste Ryan Reynolds and his hot abs in a film where he’s buried six feet under, but another part of me loves how "Buried" (opened October 1 throughout San Diego) flips off audiences by using a Hollywood celebrity in a manner that will only piss them off.

The premise of “Buried” is simple. An American man finds himself buried alive in a coffin in Iraq where he is apparently being held for ransom. If he does everything his kidnappers ask and they receive the money, he will supposedly be let free. He has a cell phone, a lighter, a flashlight, some glow sticks, a flask, and a pencil, and that’s about it. I commend director Rodrigo Cortés for having the nerve to stick to his premise and see it through to its logical end. That means the entire film is shot from inside a coffin so as with the main character, we have no escape. When his lighter goes out, we sit in the dark with a black screen.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Lionsgate

Ryan Reynolds takes direction from Rodrigo Cortés in "Buried."

That's a clever, high concept idea. It sets the kind of fun limitations student filmmakers like to play with. Cortés is not a student filmmaker but he's certainly a newbie to Hollywood. His film "The Contestant" played at the San Diego Latino Film Festival and it's game show setting had a less severe but still claustrophobic sensibility fueling it. Being buried alive isn't a new idea, and it's been memorably done in films like "The Serpent and the Rainbow," and in "Kill Bill, Vol. 2" where Uma Thurman willed her way out of the coffin.

“Buried” creates tension and claustrophobia by trapping us in a coffin with Ryan Reynolds' Paul Conroy. We feel confined but Cortés finds ways to change the lighting (we get warm colors with the lighter, cooler ones with the flashlight or glow stick) and change the angles he shoots from (Reynolds has enough room to move around a bit). Cortés is good at using this tight space but I have to admit that it wasn’t nearly as claustrophobic as “The Descent.” During “The Descent” – where a group of women spelunkers -- get caught in an underground cave – I literally felt like I was having a hard time breathing because I felt so trapped and confined. I never felt that degree of claustrophobia in “Buried” even though the setting was even more restrictive.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Lionsgate

Ryan Reynolds in "Buried."

The problem with "Buried's" premise, though, is that it is really a short film idea padded and stretched to a feature length. So while it has some fine tense moments, it could have easily been cut down by at least a half hour. Scenes involving a snake, a videotaped last will, a call home – all of these were unnecessary and strained our patience. But there are other times when Cortés captures the suffocating conditions of being buried alive well. He also succeeds in conveying Conroy’s frustration not only with the situation but with the people he tries to enlist to help him. By setting the story in Iraq -- and alluding to the private companies employed to do things the U.S. government should probably be handling -- gives the film a minor sense of political commentary. But it actually scores more hits against corporate America and it’s heartless and ruthless business agenda.

Reynolds does well in this rather unexpected role. The mall theater crowd pretty much turned on the film at a certain point because it went against all their expectations of how a Hollywood film should resolve itself and how a star should be treated. And for that denial of their expectations I have to give kudos to Cortés. He has a bit of the same wicked sensibility as Alfred Hitchcock had in “Psycho,” where he startled the audience with his unexpected treatment of his leading lady. You’d think by now that audiences would have toughened up but they still want assurances that everything will be all right and “Buried” suggests it won't be.

"Buried" is rated R for language and some violent content.

Companion viewing: “Irreversible,” “The Descent,” "Cube," "Lifeboat"

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