Paul is a U.S. contractor working in Iraq. After an attack by a group of Iraqis he wakes to find he is buried alive inside a coffin. With only a lighter and a cell phone it’s a race against time to escape this claustrophobic death trap (IMDb).
2010, Starring Ryan Reynolds.
“170,000 square miles of desert. 90 minutes of Oxygen. No way out.”
Every semester, BU requires its Film and Television majors to attend two Cinematheque events. Cinematheque is a BU-run evening program that invites filmmakers to share their work and talk about their process with us students. This week, I attended an evening with Chris Sparling, writer of the 2010 film Buried. Buried, as Sparling mentioned, was a very difficult film to write– the entire movie takes place inside a coffin. I was already amazed by the ability of Danny Boyle to bring 127 Hours to the big screen, but at least in that film Aron Ralston is out of the canyon for a good 20-30 minutes. Buried takes this concept to the next level and is also able to achieve what is seemingly impossible– keeping an audience entertained for an hour and a half in only one location with one character. Of course, you hear other voices through Paul’s cell-phone, but you never see them. Sparling said that he originally wrote this film because he wanted to shoot something EXTREMELY low-budget himself– and the most low-budget thing he could think of was a film with one character and one location.
On the one hand, I was very impressed by this film. As I mentioned, it takes a pretty good screenwriter to make one location and one character work for the majority of the film. Ironically in film school our teachers are always urging us to avoid cell-phones / voicemails, etc. as narrative devices, but this film uses it very well. Even though the quality wasn’t very high (maybe it was the DVD copy, maybe not), I very much enjoyed the cinematography in this film. It might have been less obvious to non-cinematography people, but Buried smacked you across the face with color temperature changes in its lighting scheme. You basically had four devices with Ryan Reynolds in the coffin and they were established primarily through different colors of light: his lighter (orange), cell phone (blue), glow sticks (green), flashlight (light orange or red, depending on the setting). This almost seems too obvious or basic, but it worked really well. The awesome thing about this movie is that it is lit entirely with practicals– Paul’s 4 tools, and for this reason underexposure-connoisseurs will also love this film. On set, they had 7 different coffins to choose between, varying in size based on necessity or degree of claustrophobia they wanted to convey. I certainly do NOT envy Ryan Reynolds at all. Even though he wasn’t actually buried for the shoot (wouldn’t that have been interesting?), it must have been incredibly stressful– especially scenes where sand starts leaking in through the cracks of his wooden coffin. Of course, even more so than cinematography I must commend the screenwriter– there were so many instances in the film that I was on the edge of my seat. He did a great job revealing information throughout the course of the film and raising the stakes higher and higher and higher for Ryan Reynolds.
On the other hand, there was one aspect of the film which almost completely ruined it for me. And you’ll have to watch it before I tell you what it is– Don’t want to spoil it for you. Also, there were a few parts of the movie that were just way too clichéd / corny for me. For instance, a scene where a poisonous snake gets into Ryan’s coffin, he sprays it with vodka from his flask and then throws his lighter at it to burn the snake RIGHT before it is about to strike. Really? First of all, I think a burning snake would be more likely to bite you, especially in closed corridors like a coffin, instead of just eventually slithering out the side of the coffin like it did. Second of all– vodka + lighter + wood coffin = bad idea. Realistically, his coffin should have been more damaged by this incident. To be fair, however, the writer did mention that he disagreed strongly with the director on this scene. The scene was originally scripted to be about ants getting into the coffin, but apparently that wasn’t high-stakes-enough for the director. That is fair, yes, but the corniness of the snake scene (especially since the camera tracked the snake slithering INSIDE Paul’s pants from his crotch to to his foot and out) was out of character compared to the rest of the film.
Regardless, I really hope all of you can watch it and tell me what you think! Especially so we can discuss your opinions on that one aspect that I hated… In many ways it was the twin sister of 127 Hours, my favorite film of 2010, so it is interesting to compare and contrast those two films. The main difference, I would say, is the performance. While Ryan Reynolds did a good job, he just wasn’t James Franco.
Bottom Line: A very good, very tense thriller. Add it to the top of your Netflix queue so we can discuss 3/5 stars.
An after-thought: I LOVE the movie poster for Buried. Very old-fashioned, very Hitchcockian…