Paul Conroy is not a happy man. He has just woken up, bloodied, disoriented, and with a bad headache. And to cap it off … he’s been buried alive in a coffin. Now that’s a really bad start to the week.
Of course a cynic could reply that that’s what you get for driving a truck for occupying forces in Iraq. And there’s some truth in that. On the other hand, one can hardly blame Conroy for being sucked in for working for a firm that is so heartless and amoral it would make Satan blush. Regardless, this is not the time for doling out blame. Conroy has a cell phone to talk with his kidnappers and the outside world, a lighter, and only enough air to last the length of the film, the entirety of which is filmed inside the coffin.
It is no small thing to film a powerful one and a half hour suspense solely with one actor in a coffin. (Well in one sense it is a small thing but … you know what I mean.) Rodrigo Cortes does an outstanding job of directing and Ryan Reynolds does a bang on job playing the only character in the whole dang movie (save those ghostly voices that float in with the cellphone, tantalizingly close and yet agonizingly far). This is one of the boldest, most original films I’ve seen in years.
As I sit and reflect on the experience I surmise that the most effective part of Buried is that it plays off our worst fears. The horror of being buried alive lies deep in our psyche (think of Edgar Allen Poe’s haunting short story “The Cask of Amontillado”). But the existential grip of this film doesn’t stop there. The possibility of being buried alive, if terrifying, remains remote. The more horrifying recognition comes when we see that coffin as a metaphor for our very mortality. Whether we like it or not, each one of us is Paul Conroy, slowly waking up to our own inevitable demise and like him, desperately calling on the phone for somebody — anybody — who can help us.