2010, R, 94 min. Directed by Rodrigo Cortés. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Robert Paterson, Stephen Tobolowsky, Samantha Mathis, Ivana Miño.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 8, 2010
Gasp! Choke! William M. Gaines and Al Feldstein would be proud. The co-founders and principal writers behind the legendarily subversive 1950s horror comics – Tales From the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear – long ago so permeated American pop culture that their influence on cinematic Shock SuspenStories, like the Saw series and everything Eli Roth has ever done (most memorably his faux Thanksgiving trailer from Grindhouse) is near primal. (Take that, Dr. Fredric Wertham.) The ultra-high concept Buried is about as entertaining a comic as EC star artist Jack Davis ever drew – even Davis' trademark tendrils of saliva highlighting a shrieking rictus are on display here – and the fact that this is a live-action film does nothing to negate the four-color horror of its pulp-paper origins. As the title and avalanches of advance hype suggest, Buried takes place entirely inside a coffin. And not even a fancy-schmancy, velvet-lined, Christopher Lee sleepy-time number at that. No, this is a plain pinewood-and-iron-nails, cut-rate job, and all the more oppressive for it. Trapped within this cramped dying room is Paul Conroy (Reynolds), an American contractor in Iraq who has been kidnapped and inhumed alive by agents unknown, presumably for ransom. His only companions, such as they are, in the dark dead earth are a flashlight, his trusty Zippo lighter, and a cell phone. Mad panic ensues. You've got to hand it to Reynolds, director Cortés, and screenwriter Chris Sparling; they milk every single frisson of nail-ripping anxiety from a stunningly simple – yet universally recognized and dreaded – conceit and then cap it with a payoff of molar-pulverizing intensity. Reynolds, in particular, has the Herculean task of holding the audience's attention while he squirms and squeals for 94 minutes, an eternity in our ADHD age. Cortés shovels on mounds of ever-mounting tension with artfully claustrophobia-inducing camerawork and a few freak-out surprises, and Reynolds, all sweat and eyeballs, manages to rivet both our gaze and sympathy. Somewhere, Edgar Allan Poe is uncorking a bottle of Amontillado and laughing himself silly. (Note to asthmatics: Bring your inhaler. You're going to need it.)