Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes introduced his film Buried thusly: “I am sorry that Ryan Reynolds cannot be here today, because he is much taller and better looking than I am, but I have this accent, which perhaps to you is sexy. This is a film about a man in a coffin. That’s it. And yet you are still here. I don’t know why. Our writer, Chris Sparling, is also here today, and after the film, we will do a Q&A. If you like the film, I will say, ‘Thank you, I am the director, I am responsible for this masterpiece.’ And if you are frustrated and angry and want to know why we did this thing to you, I will say, ‘What do you want from me, I didn’t write the thing.'”
Buried is, as Cortes said, simply one man in a coffin. For ninety minutes. No other actors appear, no other locations are seen, no other plot twists develop. The film opens grippingly with a minute or so of blackness, during which time we hear increasingly frantic breathing, rustling and pounding. At last, a Zippo lighter is flicked on, and we get a glimpse of where Reynolds and the audience are trapped. More of a thriller than a horror movie, Reynolds, it turns out, is a civilian contractor in Iraq who has been kidnapped. Stashed with him in the coffin are an Arabic-language cell-phone, a pocket knife, a flashlight, and a couple of neon green glowsticks. Through tense calls to his wife, his wife’s bitchy friend, his employer, the state department and his captor, Reynolds tries–no surprise here–to get out of the coffin.
Audaciously, the film works. It’s exciting throughout, intelligent, relevant, and daringly original. The unswerving story-line, which could seem limiting, writhes and contorts (like Reynolds himself) in ways that propel the film forward with a tension that never wanes. Despite the restrictive cinematic options, Cortes revels in the stripped down aesthetics, having built a dozen different coffin contraptions for clever shooting angles and enticing perspectives, and lighting the film almost entirely with practicals (sometimes cleverly using multiple off-screen Zippos to enhance the light if necessary). Reynolds’ performance is intense and nuanced, with touches of anguish and black humor. After the screening, Cortes was asked how he ended up working with Reynolds. “We met in Los Angeles, and I told him about the film. I think because of my accent he didn’t understand what we were going to do to him, and so he accepted.” From here on out, audiences will understand what they’re getting themselves into, and I imagine they’ll love it.
Rooftop might have the opportunity to host a screening in an abandoned Brooklyn subway tunnel, and we think we’ve found the perfect film. We can’t think of a better way to turn claustrophobia into a hot-ticket publicity stunt.