Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thinking Inside the Box

One of the first films I saw in 2011 was Buried at the Red Vic.

Buried starring Ryan Reynolds; directed by Rodrigo Cortés; (2010) - Official Website

The premise for Buried sounds intriguing but proves problematic. The entire film is told from the perspective of Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), a US contractor in Iraq. Conroy has the misfortune of having been kidnapped and buried alive in a coffin. He has been left a cell phone by his abductors to communicate with the outside world. This sounds like an modern day Edgar Allen Poe story. Unfortunately, director Rodrigo Cortés literally didn't think outside the box.

The entire film is shot within the coffin. We seen Conroy from above, from the side, from the head looking down, from the feet looking up, etc. This gives a claustrophobic effect and makes the audience empathize with Conroy. However, it is extremely difficult to hold one's attention for 95 minutes with such a film technique. Cortés doesn't even apply flashbacks to allow the audience a break.

If his situation isn't bad enough, Conroy suffers a host of indignities while talking to various people on the cell phone. He is fired with cause from his job so that his employer can avoid any liability. I also recall he had to cut off his finger to satisfy the demands of his kidnappers. Cortés periodically ratchets up the tension or invokes outage from the audience but ultimately this is unsustainable for a feature length film. I believe Hitchcock mentioned that a thriller must give its audience a respite so that the audience can better appreciate the suspense. A great thriller should be a rollercoaster not a step function.

I read Cortés specifically made the film to respond to a challenge or self-challenge. He deserve plaudits for how close he came to pulling it off. Ultimately, my interest waned and I thought the film would have benefitted from some exterior scenes. The plot is fiendishly simple but packed with possibilities. Limiting the action to the box diminished the potential of the film.

I thought Buried was an interesting experiment but unfulfilling movie.

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