Within a box, a man awakens,
Buried after being taken,
Held for ransom in the ground
With little hope of being found.
In frenzied calls, he pleads for aid
From people grueling to persuade
And wonders if he’ll ever see
The light of day, above and free.
In fear and anger and distress,
He yields at times to hopelessness.
He hopes a savior can prevent
His grave from being permanent.

It’s amazing how an ending can ruin the movie experience.

MovieRob recommended this film back during his Latin-directed Genre Grandeur month, and I was intrigued by the concept. It’s very simple but, in this case, very well-executed. Ryan Reynolds is utterly convincing as Paul Conroy, a truck driver in Afghanistan who finds himself trapped in a buried coffin with only a phone, a lighter, and a few other items. His panic is palpable, and as he places desperate calls to his wife, his employer, 911, and a hostage specialist, he evokes a rollercoaster of emotions. At times, he’s a bit hard to like as he cusses out the people who (we assume) are trying to help him, but in all honesty, I don’t know what I might say in his incredibly stressful situation, though I’d definitely be praying more.

As the film’s claustrophobia set in, I realized that I wasn’t just watching a man in a box; I was in there with him. The camerawork is brilliant, using every possible angle of Paul’s trapped body to keep the scene contained, with only sparse distant shots to reinforce his isolation. Considering the film’s limited setting, I was surprised at the amount of tension it could create with phone calls and in such a confined space, particularly when Paul gets an unwelcome visitor.

Despite the above praise, the film’s strengths are sadly undercut by an ending that I found to be deeply disappointing. [Spoilers for the rest of the review]. After all of Paul’s psychological torment, after everything he went through, the filmmakers apparently wanted to take the unexpected route and pull the rug out from the audience’s hopes. Surely the greatest expectation for a survival film is for the main character to survive. It doesn’t matter what horrors they go through, whether it’s cutting off their arm or their finger; there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel. In Buried, the filmmakers taunt us with that light, only to pull a psych-out, a false hope that leaves poor Paul Conroy dead and follows up his death with a bizarrely happy-sounding song during the end credits.

By the end, I was left with this disillusioned, empty feeling. What was the point of having sat through an hour and a half of claustrophobia? Should I have learned some lesson? I suppose the filmmakers were attempting to make some sociopolitical statement about the costs of war and illustrate how people in desperation often don’t find the help they need, how hostage situations often end in tragedy, but I’ve grown to despise films whose only ultimate message seems to be that things sometimes just don’t work out (i.e., 5 Centimeters Per Second).

It feels odd to complain about a film not having a happy ending since many of my favorite films end in grief (Grave of the Fireflies, Somewhere in Time, The Green Mile), but in all of these cases, there is either some silver lining or the film’s tragedy is clear from the outset. Buried is a survival thriller, one which puts its character and audience through the ringer with no satisfaction of being released. Some may enjoy that, but I certainly don’t. Sorry, Rob.

Best line: (Dan Brenner’s last words to Paul and maybe everyone watching) “I’m sorry, Paul. I’m so sorry.”

Rank: Dishonorable Mention

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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