So last night, I went off to see Rodrigo Cortés' Buried. It was the inaugural screening of the Screenrush Film Club launched to celebrate their redesign of Screenrush.co.uk.
If you are unsure - Yes! I am a sucker for good film Swag and I have to say that the Screenrush Swag bag was pretty damn good.
Anyway onto Buried. Previously I had heard that Buried was a great conceptual piece that basically consisted of Ryan Reynolds being stuck in a box. Interesting! Visions of the Larry Cohen written “phone” films: Joel Schumacher’s minor 2003 classic Phone Booth and Cellular starring & Kim Basinger and a little known Chris Evans were being conjured.
Then this August at Empire Magazine’s Moviecon I got to see the first 8 minutes of Buried and listen to Director Rodrigo Cortés talk about making Buried. My already growing interest was piqued when Cortés introduced the clip by saying something like “It’s about a man buried in a box, here are the first 8 minutes. There is nothing else to say” and shrugged.
Paul Conroy is not ready to die.
But when he wakes up six feet underground with no idea of who put him there or why, life for the truck driver and family man instantly becomes a hellish struggle for survival. Buried with only a cell phone and a lighter, his contact with the outside world and ability to piece together clues that could help him discover his location are maddeningly limited. Poor reception, a rapidly draining battery, and a dwindling oxygen supply become his worst enemies in a tightly confined race against time, fighting panic, despair and delirium, Paul has only ninety minutes to be rescued before his worst nightmare comes true.
I have to say even though Cortés’ first language is not English (he’s Spanish) he was one of the most engaging and entertaining speakers I have had the pleasure to listen to. His energy and passion at a high the entire time. Too be honest I would have paid more than the equivalent of a cinema ticket just to hear him talk. By the way the Curzon Soho is previewing Buried on Wed 29 Sep and Rodrigo Cortés will be answering questions after the screening. I highly recommend that if you can you pop along.
Cortés went on to acknowledge the craziness in making a film about a man in a box and then hoping it’s a success. And acutely aware that initially the cards were stacked against him. For full effect imagine all of this in a thick Spanish accent.
Although he has an interest in the subject matter he wasn’t particularly inspired to create a story about someone being buried (it was written by up and comer Chris Sparling) but he feels that being buried alive does tap into out primal fear.
He was quick to point out that although people thought Buried was going to be “experimental and obscure” he was aiming for more Hitchcock or in the best case “Indiana Jones in a box”.
Cortés went on to talk about the difficulties in making a film where the star is stuck in a confined space for the entire 17 day entire shoot. As you can imagine it wasn’t a whole lot of fun.
The best parts of the talk were when he went on to explain how Ryan Reynolds involved. Initially Reynolds thought it made no sense at all but read the script and thought that there is no way a film like this could be made. He went on to watch Cortés’ earlier The Contestant and wanted to know more. They met in LA and shook on making the film. ”I think it was because of my poor English, I think he misunderstood and he was too embarrassed to back out. When you have this accent people think you are sophisticated.”
Another highlight was when asked how you get a piece like Buried distributed?
I was expecting an underdog vs. the system tale but Cortés surprises again by explaining how ridiculously easy it was. They shot the film it premiered at Sundance and immediately studios were trying to outbid each other for the distribution rights- “within two months we sold it to 65% of the world.” Pure magic.
I guess a large part of whether you’ll enjoy Buried or not is whether you buy into Ryan Reynolds. I’m a fan although some of his recent efforts haven’t been great, during the late 90s (a bad time for stand out talent) Reynolds was one of the few glittering new acts on TV in "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place" to shine. The cracking dialogue played to his wise ass strengths. And pretty soon it was apparent that if Reynolds star did not ascend something was very wrong.
I say a guess a large part of whether you’ll enjoy Buried or not is whether you buy into Ryan Reynolds – because and I’m managing expectations here when I say most of the film is Ryan Reynolds in a box. There are no flashbacks, outside shots, traveling through telephone lines or sideways cuts.
Buried starts with a great Saul Bass like title sequence which sets the tense Hitchcock like tone for the film.
We wake up in the box/coffin with Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) a Truck Driver contracting in Iraq and for the remaining 95 minutes live with him real time as his predicament unfolds. He has been buried 6 feet under the ground somewhere in Iraq by professional abductors. Don’t let the word professional fool you - they do this for the money but their victim’s well being is not a priority and they are brutally merciless.
I guess this all comes down to two questions:
1. Can Ryan Reynolds single handedly hold a film together for 95 minutes?
Yes. The increasing frustration of his character permeates through his limited movements and voice - at every step of the way as he slowly descends to desperation. Reynolds is good enough to ensure that empathy is maintained for Paul. It’s also worth noting that as well as both the helpful and antagonist voices on the telephone, the psychical space has an oppressive character of its own to play off.
2. Is Buried well enough made to make sense?
Yes. Tense and gripping Buried had me engaged throughout. Cortes has alluded to it being similar to a technical challenge that the Hitchcock would have set up for himself. With Cortés fulfilling both directorial and editing duties the film comes and stays together cohesively, although I did feel myself meandering in thought around the ¾s mark but there is more than enough richness in atmosphere to make the film worthwhile.
In hindsight there are some bits that seem to be added to extend or heighten the tension and looking back there were bits that were supposed to build to a punch that may have been lost in the overall stuck in a box situation.
If you are the type person who would pay to see a film about a man stuck in box, you won’t be disappointed. With a few props and lots of creativity the Buried teams have made a pretty good film.
Buried will be in UK cinemas from the 1 October, 2010
Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, José Luis García Pérez, Robert Paterson, Stephen Tobolowsky, Samantha Mathis