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To call Buried depressing would be like calling a pool wet. The very idea of being buried alive is inherently distressing and while not all suffer from taphephobia, there’s no denying how intense it would be if caught in the situation, however unlikely. There’s no hope for escape, no way to contact the world above and a limited amount of air depleting with each passing breath. All you can do is lay there and wait for death. That is Buried in a nutshell, a riveting thriller seemingly of Hitchcockian descent, one that the Master of Suspense may have enjoyed watching himself.

The film’s one and only star is Ryan Reynolds, who plays a man by the name of Paul Conroy, a civilian truck driver for a contractor in Iraq. He has just woken up in a wooden coffin bound and gagged with only a lighter and a cell phone. With a dying battery and diminishing oxygen, he must quickly figure out where he is if he hopes to make it out alive.

Thrillers come in all sizes. Some are massive in scope while others are small, tight and calculated. My favorites tend to be in the latter category. Movies like Hitchcock’s own Rope and Rear Window have always appealed to me because they are able to take so little and make something big. They are set in one small area and the characters are dealing with an immediate threat, which gives you a chance to connect with them and care about what they are going through. Buried is like this. With not a single frame of the picture existing outside of the coffin, you feel like you come to know Paul, even if only limitedly.

Most effective, however, is the intense feeling of claustrophobia, the likes of which I haven’t felt since Neil Marshall’s terrific little 2005 monster movie The Descent, but what that movie accomplished pales in comparison to the feeling of being trapped in Buried. You’ll feel the walls surrounding Paul and choke at the thought of losing your air supply. It’s the type of movie that forces you into discomfort and doesn't let go until you walk out of the theater, a feeling of freedom that you’ll most surely enjoy after experiencing this.

Even so, some questionable decisions lighten the grip. Non-diegetic music and unnecessary zooms in rapid succession do nothing more than displace you from the coffin, a feeling some viewers may welcome, but most will find frustrating. For the purpose of the movie, I wanted to stay there, trapped by those wooden walls, but sometimes my suspension of disbelief and connection with the events on screen were pulled right out from under me, reminding me that I was indeed in a theater.

Despite my affection for Buried, it’s still a gimmick and like many gimmicky movies—Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project to name a couple—it wears pretty thin by the end. Although I can see it working wonders as an old school radio program, given that the majority of the mood and tension derives from the audio, it does little as a visual experience. Director Rodrigo Cortés does a serviceable job of keeping the flow of things diverse, but there’s nothing that can offset the inherent monotony of watching somebody talk on the phone.

Still, Reynolds is marvelous in the role, conveying emotion even when unable to move and he, much like John Cusack in 1408, puts on an effective one man show, a true testament to his underrated talent. Sure, it’s depressing and doesn’t necessarily hit any real insight on the human condition outside of our natural will to survive, but Buried is nonetheless an interesting experiment that’s worth checking out.

Buried receives 3.5/5

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