“To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.”
-From Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Premature Burial”
When I saw several equipments devised for saving the people mistakenly buried alive during the 19th century in some big, encyclopedic book, I found them quite amusing, but being buried alive is not funny at all. Try to think about it for a moment. There is only the darkness before your open eyes. You soon become very, very uncomfortable because you cannot move much in the coffin. You know the oxygen in the air is being decreased even if there is no measurement tool. There is probably no one to hear your desperate cry. And that certain dreadful feeling creeps into your helpless mind.
I have seen many moments of people buried alive in countless thrillers and horror movies. Some of them were quite frightening, but “Buried” reminded me how mercifully short most of them were for us. By choosing to concentrate wholly on its subject, the movie daringly forces the rigorous limits upon itself. It willingly does that right from the beginning. It even never attempts to get out of its rigid boundaries while firmly staying on its cramped area throughout its running time. Despite such burdensome constraints, the movie succeeds in not only achieving its goal but also deeply terrifying us.
Let’s talk about its horrible premise. After going down with the ominous main title sequence, we immediately meet Paul Conroy(Ryan Reynolds) in the coffin buried under the ground. It is somewhere in Iraq in 2006. Paul is a truck driver employed by some contracter company, and he remembers that his truck was ambushed right before he lost his consciousness. Poor guy, he only went there to support his family and he knew well about how dangerous place Iraq is, but he had probably never expected such a terrible situation like this.
Fortunately for him(and the audience), there are still time, space, and light sources, and, above all, the chances for his survival. Although it is quite limiting for his body movements, the coffin has some little extra space for Paul. That means there is enough oxygen to sustain him for at least several hours. His personal effects were mostly taken away from him, but he still has his lighter in the pocket. There are also a flashlight, a fluorescent lightsaver, a cellular phone, and a knife in the coffin.
Who put them there? It is apparent that Paul is being held as a hostage. The demand for ransom is delivered through the cellular phone. Paul will be left buried forever if the money is not delivered till the deadline. At least he can use the cell phone freely, so he calls 911, and then his wife, his company, and the Pentagon. However, ironically, the phone conversations with others only make him more desperate and frustrated while his precious time is running out along with the oxygen and the phone battery charge. He still finds himself as helpless as Barbara Stanwyck in “Sorry, Wrong Number”(1948).
By adamantly focusing on only one place, the director Rodrigo Cortés creatively maintains a high level of intensively dark, claustrophobic atmosphere. With several coffin sets and accompanying camera tricks and special effects, he only shows what happens in the coffin while never swaying from its straight and narrow path for any single moment. It is all about the experience with the utmost horror. There is no flashback in the movie. The people with whom Paul talks on the phone are not shown on the screen. We see and hear more and less than Paul can. We even cannot see what is happening directly above the coffin. And the effective use of widescreen emphasizes this extremely suffocating state.
With this setting and Chris Sparling’s smart script, Cortés makes his movie simultaneously gut-wrenching and compelling. I will not go into details about how he did it for not spoiling your experience. Let’s just say the movie mercilessly and realistically stacks up the dread on the screen a second by a second in the fashion of “The Pit and the Pendulum”, one of those short stories written by Edgar Allan Poe that scared me a lot during my childhood. If you remember those terrifying ordeals forced upon the hero step by step in that scary story, you will know what I mean.
The movie is basically a one-man show that requires considerable talent from its actor, and Ryan Reynolds gives a credible performance that holds our attention from the beginning to the end. Despite being in the condition that is difficult for any capable actors, he convincingly carries the movie through every emotion imaginable in that trapped situation. It also should be mentioned that the actors providing the voices on the other end of the line are also important in supporting the drama and Reynolds’ performance.
“Buried” is a gripping horror/thriller movie based. It sticks all the way with its simple premise to scare us, and, like any good horror movies, it works terrifyingly even when we do not see much from the screen because it lets our imagination to work by itself. To be frank with you, I had a memorable experience thanks to this movie. Several hours after watching the movie on this Wednesday night, I went to bed after turning the light out. It was all right at first, but then the images from the movie started to disturb my brain. Being buried alive is never, never, and never a funny thing to imagine.