Had Buried been the simple horror film with a gimmick that it promised, I think I would have been much more satisfied with the movie. It is not, however. And it spends its one hundred minute run time moving sloppily between attempting to thrill with claustrophobia and running out the clock, and hitting the viewer over the head with it’s redundant political agenda.
You see, Ryan Reynolds is Paul Conroy, a civilian truck driver in Iraq. As he was delivering food, or medical supplies, or something equally altruistic for an innocent character, to an Iraqi community center when his convoy was attacked. He was knocked unconscious, and woke up in a coffin with a phone and four or five other light sources.
Director Rodrigo Cortés’s job was to make the inside of a coffin both interesting enough to watch for over an hour and a half, as well as to make it feel claustrophobic. In this, he both succeeded and failed, as the film is interesting enough not to be bored. However, Neil Marshall did a better job at making me squirm at the idea of small spaces in The Descent. In fact, at times, the space seems quite roomy.
Chris Sparling was saddled with the task of writing the screenplay, making one hundred minutes of phone calls seem interesting and exciting. For a short while, he succeeds, and the tension builds and builds as Paul makes call after call, being put on hold, transferred, and being sent to voice mail. If the situation weren’t so dire, it would almost be Kafka-esque dark comedy of the difficulties of bureaucratic red tape. The emotions run high and tense as Paul leaves heartfelt and panicked messages for his wife and who isn’t answering the phone.
However, at some point, the calls stop representing a frustrating string of bad luck, and begins to neatly align itself with one of the most overtly political agendas I’ve seen this year. The contractor he works for finds a loophole to avoid paying out insurance. The FBI seems to have simply assigned him a babysitter on the phone to wait with him while he dies. Paul is provided with technology that should save his life, but in practice, is only used by those on the other end to dexterously wrap up the untidy situation and distance themselves from it as fast as possible. Get it? It’s irony. And the Iraq war is run poorly.
Once the film has beaten that dead horse to death, it sinks to even lower levels. A poisonous snake finds it’s way into Paul’s pants (I’m serious), the coffin catches on fire, the roof cracks and the coffin starts filling with sand. And with that, the film abandoned any sort of credibility it may have built up. And instead of the slow and heavy dread of being buried alive being enough of a horror itself, the film begins a race against the clock: will they find him before he’s covered in sand or won’t they!? You won’t know until the end, but you better believe Paul has to cut one of his fingers off before that happens.