ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON OCT. 6, 2010
By Steve Newton
A few years ago, I was sleeping in the bunk of an old camper and I woke up feeling claustrophobic for the first time in my life. I had to clamber over my startled wife in the dark and exit that cramped space, pronto. It was a very unsettling experience, but nothing compared to what the protagonist endures in Buried, a gripping real-time experiment in close-quarters dread.
An American truck driver in Iraq, Paul Conroy (Vancouver’s Ryan Reynolds) is attacked on the job and taken hostage, waking up bound and gagged and freaking out in a wooden box—or coffin, if you will. He’s facing suffocation in, oh, 90 minutes or so, but he quickly learns that a mind-over-matter, Kill Bill–style escape is not an option. His precarious lifeline takes the form of a cellphone, a lighter, and a pencil.
An arresting study of modern man facing ancient fear, Buried falters only when its victim comes off as a bit of a dick. Conroy is in a do-or-die situation and, understandably, panicked, but imbuing him with a few people skills could have seriously heightened the drama. Even when he calls his Alzheimer’s-plagued mom and she doesn’t remember her own son, you don’t feel as sorry for him as you should.
Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés deserves credit for shooting an effective feature in 17 days with one set, one on-screen actor, and not a lot of other expenses. His creative use of total darkness and anxiety-inducing sound effects should inspire budget-challenged nightmare makers everywhere.
A beneficial byproduct of Conroy’s aforementioned personality flaw is the pitch-black humour that screenwriter Chris Sparling sparingly sprinkles amid the bleakness. His next film, ATM, is about three coworkers who become trapped during a late-night visit to a bank machine.
Forget being buried alive in a box; prepare yourself for the extreme terror of unavailable cash!
Go here to read more than 350 of my reviews of horror movies released theatrically in North America between 1988 and 2018.