Sundance Movie Review: Buried

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I first learned of Buried after the spec screenplay appeared on the Black List, a listing of the top unproduced screenplays of the year. Written by Chris Sparling, the film stars Ryan Reynolds as a U.S. contractor working in Iraq who wakes up to find that he has been 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. The entire 94 minute feature takes place in the coffin, with no cutaways to the outside world. Aside from his phone, Reynolds is the only actor who appears on screen in the film.

As a former screenwriter, I’m a huge fan of minimalistic one-room thrillers — Hard Candy, Tape, The Killing Room, Frozen…etc. I’ve been looking forward to Buried since it was first announced, and tonight I finally got to screen the movie as part of Sundance’s Park City at Midnight category.

Buried is a cinematic achievement in almost every respect.

The story is consistantly compelling, surprising, and will have you on the edge of your seat, up until the very last second. There is a reason why this film was listed on the Black List.

You might think that a film shot in an eight foot wooden box might not look too interesting, and would mostly consist of the same 5 camera angles. Not so. The cinematography of Buried is nothing short of amazing. Using only a few practical light sources (all explained in the story), cinematographer Eduard Grau creates wonderfully artistic compositions full of energy and movement (one of the shots was a 300 degree dolly shot from within the coffin, without the aid of computer generated effects).

If you’re still not sold, let me tell you this: the film features a few action sequences, all of which take place inside the coffin. The skill required to pull this off is incomprehensible to me. Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés has pulled off some many amazing technical tricks with this feature, that you can’t tell where one ends and the next begins. He will no doubt have a bright future in Hollywood.

But the reason why the film works is the powerful yet believable performance by Ryan Reynolds. He is this movie, every single second of it. Sure, a few voice actors provide the off-screen supporting cast, the most notable being Stephen Tobolowsky, but for all intents and purposes, Buried is a one-man-show.

Sure, there are a couple logistical holes, like how is he able to use his cell phone under 10 feet or more of dirt when I can’t get my iPhone to work in a Park City over-run with Hollywood execs (quip courtesy of Katey Rich). Of course, picking apart any high concept screenplay is likely to lead to little nitpicks, but none of the holes are big enough to prevent you from enjoying the movie.

For me this film works on every level. It achieves so much with so little. It is not only an amazing example of what minimalistic filmmaking can accomplish, but it is a great film in its own right. I have no idea if people will see it – or want to see it. The sell might/could be hard — it’s such a crazy concept, and I can understand why people might think this film could/would be boring. But this is the type of film that you show all your friends. I could definitely see this being the next word-of-mouth viral blockbuster, following in Paranormal Activity‘s footsteps.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10

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About the Author

Peter Sciretta is a film geek and popcultured fanboy living in Los Angeles. He created /Film in 2005.

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