Sunday, October 17, 2010

Buried: A Review

"... it was they who had buried me as a dog - nailed up in some common coffin - and thrust deep, deep, and for ever, into some ordinary and nameless grave."

The Premature Burial (1884) by Edgar Allan Poe

Buried Poster
Why can't more movie posters be like this?

I remember staying up in bed late at night as a kid after reading about the accounts of people who were accidentally buried alive back when the science of medicine was still an infant and lacked the sophistication to distinguish the deathly from the dead. There I was, lying on my bed, alone, in the dark and enclosed within the ceiling, the floor and the four walls of my bedroom, I contemplated the horror of finding oneself waking up in a coffin several feet beneath the crushing weight of dirt. Death is merciful when it's quick. Death is cruel when it allows you the time to acquaint yourself with the gravity of the situation: one in which you are inhumed in a box in the belly of the earth and there's nothing you can do to save yourself. Even if you scream till your vocal chords snap. Even if you claw at your prison till you rip your nails out of their bloody roots.

Buried is a film built around the premise of a man being buried alive. The entirety of the film takes place within the confines of a makeshift coffin, underground. There's no cuts to the outside world, not even in flashbacks. Ryan Reynolds is Paul Conroy, and he's the only character you'll see on screen. The film's running time is an hour and a half. Let all that sink into your mind for a sec.

In defiance of common sense, Buried turned out to be far more interesting and exciting than I thought it's restrictive and claustrophobic premise would allow it to be. Interred with Paul Conroy is a cellphone, and that's the complete extent of his access to the outside world. What would you do if you are in Conroy's horrifying predicament? Who would you call?

The film sought not only to tell the story of a man who is buried alive; it replicates the experience of being buried alive. We are stuck in that box with Conroy. He talks to people topside through the phone and they tell him what's happening above ground - but he had absolutely no idea if everything he's told is really the truth; an uncertainty we are forced to share with him. The movie plays a bit like a mystery as we slowly discover who Paul Conroy really is, how he came to be trapped by who and at where, and why.

The plot of Buried inherently invites the question: Will he escape? But I'm not the sort of person who cares about that terribly. The question which I find more engrossing is how he plans to do it.

I entered my screening and found, to my pleasant surprise, that the theatre was almost completely filled. I thought that it's a miracle that a film such as this could manage to get a wide release - and I consider it an even greater miracle that our local Malaysian cinemas would pick up such an unconventional film to screen. A near full-house of Malaysian moviegoers for Buried? There must be some sort of misunderstanding here, Mr Reality, sir.

As it turned out, there was a misunderstanding after all - a big one. Two fat Chinese girls beside me got progressively more and more frustrated as they slowly came to the realisation that the camera was never going to leave the coffin and all they would get are more closeups of Ryan Reynold's sweaty face. I had to shush them because their Mandarin complaints were fraying my nerves. Eventually, they lifted their fat asses from their seats midway through, declared that the movie was "retarded" and walked out, good fucking riddance. And it's not just that two philistines either - a low, continuous murmur of disapproval and derision prevailed in all corners. It ruined a lot of the quieter, more reflective moments of the film designed to let the implication of the character's situation hit home. Like I said earlier, the most distressing thing about being entombed alive is that it gives you time to think about it, and their bitching was ruining the experience for me. I almost stood up screaming: "Either shut the fuck up or get the fuck out if you hate this movie so much!"

This is a film about a guy being buried alive. The film's name is Buried. Just what the fuck did they expect to see? My girlfriend helpfully offered, "Maybe they expected Ryan Reynolds to get out in 5 minutes and kick serious ass, like the Bride did in Kill Bill."

I went in knowing full well what I was in for, and I got far more out of this film than I foresaw. The suspense never lets up but yet, it did not feel exhausting. The pacing is deliberate, picking up at times to highlight the crisis of time running out and slowing down when it needs to massage the essence of a moment into your head. There are scenes of genuine wit and humour. There are also scenes of thrilling, bona fide action, if you can believe it. At its core is a great story which meditates deeply into the poorly-lit labyrinth of human nature. There are revelations so devastating that they will haunt you long after you left the dark. And all of it is contained inside a coffin, deep beneath the ground.

It's one neat package, is what I'm saying. It's one of the neatest packages I've seen all year.

P.S. The ending was brilliant. Loved it!

buried rave reviews poster
If I had a penny for every time I saw a psychological thriller being compared to Hitchcock...

Shared a coffin with Ryan Reynolds,
k0k s3n w4i


Anonymous said...

Just watched it today and... you know what? I can't share my opinion without spoiling it for everyone. Haha. But you're right; it was most definitely suspenseful for a movie so... enclosed.

Anonymous said...

Btw, I take it you recognised Tobolowsky's voice? Haha.

k0k s3n w4i said...

lovealynna: well, you can always write me through my e-mail or put a spoiler warning at the beginning of your comments. i'd certainly like to know your thoughts on buried. hardly anyone had seen it. and yes, i recognised stephen tobolowsky. he mentioned briefly in his podcast quite awhile ago that he had a role in the film.

Anonymous said...

At risk of sounding a bit obsessive, I gave in and sent you a FB message last night! Haha.

k0k s3n w4i said...

lovealynna: nah, don't worry. i correspond with a number of my readers outside of this website - but mostly through my gmail :)