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Buried alive: fear tactics and single-setting cinema

To this day, my worst fear is to be set on fire. The idea of dying by slowly roasting is a terrifying thought. Just think of how long it takes to burn alive and let that ill feeling settle down in the pit of your stomach. Or perhaps a good sear isn’t your fear factor. How about struggling for breath in a casket? Director Rodrigo Cortés puts this formula to the big screen in his new film Buried.

Ryan Reynolds stars as Paul Conroy, a truck driver working in Iraq who is ambushed and entrapped in a shallow grave by kidnappers. He is armed with only a lighter, cell phone, and a writing utensil. The previews are cryptic; the emphasize Conroy’s frantic attempt to escape his tiny prison while raves from critics sprinkle in throughout the two-ish minutes.

Well, I have my own list of tags to pepper across the maze of white lines in the Buried poster (a spot on homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo by the way). As narratives go Buried attempts something quite rare- a one man show. But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen some of the film’s other elements. As the resident formula inspector I’ve noted a distinguished few.  

1. Coffin

Just a few years ago, Beatrix Kiddo found herself in her final resting place. Problem was she wasn’t dead. Kill Bill was Quentin Tarantino’s two-part action flick focusing on Kiddo’s revenge path toward the boss who burned her. Otherwise known as The Bride or “Black Mamba,” Beatrix was entombed by a rival. With steady determination she pounded her way out of the wooden body bag and spent a good amount of scenes tracking down her former friends covered in grave site dirt.

thebride

2. Claustrophobia

A coffin isn’t the only small space that induces dread. The movie Alien capitalizes on the catacomb like architecture of a spacecraft to create one of the most iconic sci-fi horror films of all time. The ghastly and acidic alien had everywhere to hide and hunt unsuspecting humans who had nowhere else to go to survive. Not to be forgotten, caves are often used to create anxiety. The Descent is just one horror picture that comes to mind. A group of young women fight underdeveloped “crawlers” and each other amidst a maze of unexplored underground trail. Needless to say, not everyone makes it out in one piece.

3. Isolation

Just a couple weeks ago, M. Night Shyamalan attempted to create tension in a small capacity elevator with his production Devil. A group of five strangers had the time of their…deaths… as they were attacked by the unseen devil. That film failed at creating pressure due to poor performances by C-list stars. Still, the concept induced stomach knots for anyone whose ever been stuck in a malfunctioning lift. 

Classic motion pictures Misery and The Shining deserve more than honorable mentions. Both make a good use of out of the way homes as isolated settings for drama and terror. Similar to Alien, the lack of a place to truly run away is the source of alarm. Unless a person can outpace their pursuer, they are not close enough to any help that can hear them scream. And who can forget Jack Nicholson’s ax through the door.

4. Race Against Time

phonebooth

A concluding element that Buried utilizes is the confining and draining use of time. Run Lola Run was a breakout foreign film in 1999. Lola had only 20 minutes to keep her boyfriend from attempting a robbery. Opening with less than a tenth of a million dollars, it went on to earn $7 million at the box office, a feat for a small foreign language picture. Phone Booth had a bigger star in Colin Farrell. As the title suggests, Farrell’s character is trapped in a phone booth by a sniper who threatens to kill him if he leaves. The movie basically bombed with a total haul of $46 million.

Where Buried severely deviates from the previous entries is that it is a one man show. Beside the voices of other minor characters the audience is subjected to one and a half hours of Ryan Reynolds trying desperately to stay alive. Whether it outdoes films of a similar persuasion will be determined this Friday.

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