The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A view from the coffin

with 22 comments

I’ve always loved books and movies that are made with strict restrictions, consisting of limits in time, space or the number of people. How few actors can you use without running out of conversation? How small can you make the space they movie in? The fewer variables the screenwriter has to deal with, the more does he or she have to be to make it work.

I probably hit a new record in restrictions with Buried. One man, buried alive in a coffin. One man and his cell phone to be more precise. That’s plenty if you’re making a contemplation over existential matters, but it’s not a lot to deal with if you’re aiming for an exciting thriller.

One actor
Buried is the debut feature film of the Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés and apparently he didn’t have access to a huge budget. But he certainly did the best he could of whatever he had. He put aside some money to build coffins – all sorts of coffins to care to the different needs of the camera.

But most of the budget probably went to hiring The Actor. Only one, but a good one, a bit the same as Duncan Jones did with Moon. An actor known enough to the audience to be “somebody”, but at the same time not too much of a star, so you still can afford the fees.

They had Ryan Reynolds – but only for seventeen days, which meant that they almost never reshot a scene. It appears to have been pretty intense work and I don’t think that’s just something they say for the about-video. Ryan had to work his ass off for his payment.

Watching in a coffin
So what did I think of it? Did Cortés manage to pull this off? Will someone who has seen this movie like to hire him again? I would say yes, and yes. Actually I’m not 100 percent sure if it’s Cortés we should thank most. Perhaps it’s the screenwriter Chris Sparling who should be credited for managing to make an exciting movie out telephone conversations and not much else. In any case, I was pleasantly surprised, even though it obviously was a bit uncomfortable to watch.

I remember there was some hullabaloo at the launch, where some chosen people or people who paid extra could watch it locked into a coffin. But for me that would have been an overkill; I felt trapped enough as it was.

I won’t say all that much about the plot. There isn’t much to understand anyway. It begins in darkness. Paul wakes up, finding himself locked into this coffin, and soon he’s figured out he’s buried in the ground. He’s got a cell phone with him, which puzzled me a little to begin with; if someone put him there, why didn’t they take it away from him? But little by little we get to know why and we also get to know more about him and where he’s coming from as you hear him calling various numbers for help.

Moments of groaning
There were a couple of moments where I groaned a little. All of a sudden they throw in an element that is common in the horror film genre, but that doesn’t quite belong here. It is as if they don’t trust the basic concept of the film to be exciting enough as it is. But they were wrong. We did just fine and that “thing” didn’t need to be there.

There was also one telephone conversation that I found oddly political, where he got delivered a little speech about how he should “understand” the other side. I thought to myself that this maybe expressed the view of the screenwriter, but it didn’t quite fit in and I didn’t believe that the person who said it actually said that.

I’ve heard complaints about the guy being too unpleasant to some of the people he calls, to which I counter: who wouldn’t be a bit stingy in such a predicament? I certainly would!

I’ve also seen people who argue that Paul isn’t smart enough. Why didn’t he make better use of his lightener and why does he waste so much mobile telephone battery without thinking? Why doesn’t he make use of all the tools he eventually turns out to have at his disposal? My response to this is that situations of emergency have the sad tendency to dumb you down. Your brain doesn’t work on full capacity. You get a tunnel vision and it’s easy to just overlook something. In this aspect the movie does a great job. Sadly enough we don’t all turn into super smart survival artists when we need it as most.

So, all in all, apart from a couple of minor details I didn’t like, I thought the movie was solid. I don’t think it would last a second viewing very well, but that’s not something I expect from every movie. Sometimes 95 minutes of one-time-only suspense is good enough.

Buried (Rodrigo Cortés, ES, 2010) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

November 15, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in Buried

22 Responses

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  1. I agree that the film is incredibly effective in creating suffocating claustrophobia. Overall, I don’t think it worked as well for me though as well as for you. I did like that his character was so flawed and even horrible at times – that made sense to me – and I’d like to give kudos to the filmmaker for gambling on such a character, assuming that he will still capture the viewer’s sympathies. That’s a rare sort of character in Hollywood films. I was bothered though by some small things – like the keeping his phone light on. It makes perfect sense that he wouldn’t be thinking clearly, but even when he knew – and we knew he knew – he should turn it off, he didn’t – and he had two lights at that point. It seems a small complaint, but it did take me out of the film, out of the coffin, so to speak. The one horror moment you refer to, too, was just a bit much. Still, in the end, I admire the effort and can definitely see why it worked so well for you.

    • Hm… I must have missed something because I didn’t find him horrible at all. I’m not sure what you’re referring to honestly. Sure, he was a little grumpy at some people who were slow to help him out or understand what predicament he was in, but so would I have been. On the contrary there was one conversation that almost got me into tears. (It’s so hard to talk about this movie without spoiling it!)

      It’s sad when you’r taken out of a film by something. It can be pretty hard to appreciate the rest of it once the spell is gone. That moment I got annoyed at almost did that to me but I managed to get back into the coffin so to say and enjoy the rest of it.


      November 15, 2011 at 10:31 am

  2. I really liked this film, too. I thought it was clever, scary and thrilling, especially good for what it was. I was left a little pissed off about the end though, but then again, there were only so many ways it could have ended. Unfortunately, I’m probably the only one in my town who loved this film, as many didn’t find it terribly exciting 😦


    November 15, 2011 at 7:54 am

    • I actually liked the end. it definitely bumped up the grade for me. I threw a quick glance at the comments at imdb and was surprised to see how many people that hated the movie.


      November 15, 2011 at 10:32 am

  3. I love this kind of film too. Cube, Tape and to a lesser extent Saw all worked wonders with minimal sets and characters. Buried was pretty damn good, I think I know exactly which but you are talking about that was was just one complication too far. I was very pleasantly surprised by the ending too. Very brave!


    November 15, 2011 at 8:24 am

    • I haven’t watched either Cube or Tape, but as you mentioned it I checked up on it and it support the ending.


      November 15, 2011 at 10:57 am

  4. I’ll admit, I did really like this one. I won’t see it again, but Reynolds managed to carry it really well and I was thoroughly impressed. I love these kinds of films.


    November 15, 2011 at 8:51 am

    • Yes, Reynolds felt like a perfect casting. The fillm felt sold, sort of clean and stylish in the way that shortfilms can be.


      November 15, 2011 at 10:59 am

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed Buried when I saw it – I thought the premise was fraught with danger, but bot Cortes and the wonderful performance from Reynolds elevated what could have been a clunker into being actually a decent effort. Sure, there were some slight issues with contrivance, but one the whole, the effect was a tense, exciting film which leaves a viewer gasping for air themselves.

    Kudos to Pete (above) who tipped his hat towards Cube as another fine example of the “limited setting” genre, that was a film I was going to mention as well.

    Rodney Twelftree

    November 15, 2011 at 9:51 am

    • I agree. There were so many things that could have gone wrong. Imagine for instance that they had taken shots outside of the coffin, from the world above. That would have reduced it to trivial. But they dared to be consistent and that’s what makes it into something you remember.


      November 15, 2011 at 11:01 am

  6. I really enjoyed the movie. As you say, it’s quite an achievement to make a good thriller that takes place in a single room.

    It reminds me of another low budget thriller, Cube. It was also shot in one single room and was awesome.


    November 15, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    • Another vote for Cube! I really need to see that one obviously.
      Re: low budget – I get more and more conviced about that there’s no connection between how good a movie is and how big budget it has. If anything it appears as if the films with small budgets are better. Less is more! Just think of Moon. So awesome! And so cheap.
      With a low budget you’re not tempted to drag your film down 3d and other extravagances. It keeps the movie healthy slim and fit.


      November 15, 2011 at 1:08 pm

      • I really liked it but it’s also a weird movie so it’s not something I’d usually advise as I’m sure a lot of peole will dislike it.

        And yes, some of the best movies I’ve seen are low to very low budget. Heck, every Belgian movie we make is considered very low budget by US standards yet some of our movies win one price after another. Just look at our Dardenne brothers or more recently, our Oscar candidate Bullhead which has won one award after another and might just launch Matthias Schoenaerts US career.


        November 16, 2011 at 12:30 pm

  7. […] time I went for the misery, at least initially. First I endured one and a half hour buried alive in a coffin in Buried. It kept me captured but wasn’t exactly uplifting. But that was just a […]

  8. Excellent review. I’ve yet to see this but I do like films that can capture drama utilising limited resources – ie. a single actor, or a single location or both. I’ve heard good and bad things about Buried but I must check it out for myself.


    November 17, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    • Thank you. I really think it’s worth checking out. Even if you don’t enjoy it the way I did, it’s interesting as an experiment.


      November 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm

  9. I just thought, could you also count Panic Room as minimal locations and characters? I would and I think it’s one of the best of these types of thrillers I’ve ever seen. It milks the location and conflict between the characters for every drop of suspense and narrative twist it possibly can.


    November 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    • I haven’t seen it but from the descriptions it certainly sounds like it. It sounds like it might be a good one. And I notice it’s made by David Fincher. I have good experiences by other of his movies.


      November 17, 2011 at 4:17 pm

      • It might be ‘lesser’ Fincher to many, but it’s incredible! So tense and brilliantly crafted and scripted. And Jodie Foster is excellent as always!


        November 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm

  10. The movie wasn´t bad but i found it kind of dull. I was a typichal story which had been great if it had been shorter, 40 – 50 minutes. I


    November 17, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    • It does have a bit of a short film feeling to it, but I actually never got bored. He kept me hooked all the way through. And compared to most fulllength movies of today it was pretty short. 🙂


      November 17, 2011 at 10:25 pm

  11. Just remembered another… have you seen FROZEN… mostly set on a ski chair lift. Surprisingly good shocker!


    December 6, 2011 at 6:15 pm

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