Buried – Review

Worth seeing: as an exercise in low-budget film-making (one man in a box), but the exercise fails to convince or retain your interest
Director:Rodrigo Cortés
Featuring:Ryan Reynolds, Erik Palladino, Ivana Mino, Jose Luis Garcia Perez, Robert Paterson, Samantha Mathis, Stephen Tobolowsky, Warner Loughlin
Length:95 minutes
Released:29th September 2010


It’s dark. Pitch black. Heavy breathing. A cigarette light flickers. Paul (Ryan Reynolds) looks around him the best he can. He can hardly move. He appears to be in a coffin.

The last thing he can remember was being ambushed by insurgents as he was driving a civilian lorry through Iraq.

They must have buried him in the desert.

With a coffin-full of air, a cigarette lighter and a mobile phone he finds at his feet, can Paul get out…before the air runs out?


One of the first things low budget film-makers are taught is to come up with a plot which involves as few characters and locations as possible and you can’t get much fewer than one character in one location – a box.

With the camera never once leaving the crate – apart from a couple of surreal “looking down from above” shots – this entire film could have been shot in your bedroom, with a bit of fencing and a cheap camera.

Considering the restrictions it places on itself, the film is remarkable. Rodrigo Cortés does a tremendous job ratcheting up the tension as the clock ticks and the air runs out and you wonder how on earth he’s going to keep it interesting.

And here’s where the first problem kicks in – he doesn’t, really.

It is incredibly claustrophobic, pushes boundaries and at times gets very exciting but ultimately the plot just misses the mark and starts going round in circles and repeating.

We keep hitting the same walls again and again – he calls home and gets the answerphone – he calls his wife and gets her voicemail – he calls his employers and gets put on hold and so on.

It’s not giving too much away to say that he receives a call from the people who put him there, demanding “five million money,” so his task, is to try to arrange the ransom payment to secure his survival.

But here’s the biggest problem with the premise – if you were a ruthless gang of Iraqi insurgents and you wanted “five million money” and decided to kidnap an American civilian to get it, would you (a) film him, post the video on youtube and send the link to every international media organisation you can think of or (b) bury him in a coffin in the desert with nothing but a cigarette lighter and a mobile phone with a low battery and hope he has the resourcefulness to work out how to switch the language from Arabic to English and make a raft of international calls to try to arrange the payment (you’d probably need five million money of credit on the mobile to make all the calls), before running out of air through breathing or burning the lighter – and that’s all assuming that you wouldn’t have a problem getting a clear mobile signal, buried goodness knows how deep below the surface.

The further the plot goes on, the less believable it becomes – if he’s buried shallow enough that he can hear the call to prayer, he’s probably resourceful enough to try to break the coffin as there won’t be that much sand above him. And there are a few careless moments which grate – such as where a close-up of the phone reveals the battery life appears to have grown rather than depleted since the previous shot.

Oddly, the most frightening parts of the film are where it successfully satirises bureaucracy – from the “if you want to report a kidnapping, press one” kind of menus to a spine-chilling conversation he has a representative from his haulage company (Stephen Topolowsky).

Ryan Reynolds does an impressive job of carrying the film alone, as he wriggles and squirms and does his darnedest to escape.

Buried is a valiant attempt to make an exciting piece of cinema for very little money.

Ironically, for its title, on the surface, it works effectively, but as soon as you start to dig, it starts to fall apart.

In truth – how visually interesting can you expect a film about a man in a box to be? And don’t try to promote a film by saying “he has just 90 minutes worth of air to escape” if the film is 95 minutes long.