A view from the coffin | The Velvet Café

buriedI’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

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