A nifty gimmick rarely translates into satisfying cinema, but Buried qualifies as an exception. In case you haven’t heard, the conceit of this minimalist film (masterfully realized by screenwriter Chris Sparling and director Rodrigo Cortés) is that it’s set entirely within a coffin, in which a man awakens, equipped only with a partially charged cell phone, a Zippo, and a few other essential items.
It’s almost irrelevant that Ryan Reynolds plays the guy in the box—darkness, grime, and sweat obscure his pretty-boy looks throughout—but the usually blah actor is up to the constricting role: an American truck driver stationed in Iraq who is captured by an insurgent and held for ransom underground. Reynolds reportedly even opted not to rehearse, in order to make the immediacy of the situation more convincing.
A heart-racing exercise in frustration, Buried largely consists of its victim desperately trying to reach a friendly voice on the other end of the line. Instead, he repeatedly gets his wife’s voice mail, and whether speaking to an operator or a hostage negotiator, he’s met with the same maddening “please holds” and measured replies as if he were someone simply trying to report a technical problem. Claustrophobics beware, but thrill-seekers rejoice: in Buried the fear of not being heard is almost as terrifying as the threat of slow suffocation.