I really love high concept movies. Cinema is most exciting when there’s some crazy idea that demands to be a movie. “Guy in a coffin” is one of those concepts.
The film really tests the audience’s limits immediately after the opening credits. I mean wow, it holds on for a long time. I’m sorry for folks in regular theaters where idiots will fill the effective silence with obnoxious chatter.
More after the jump…
Director Rodrigo Cortes revels in the visual discovery of the situation Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) wakes up, and the camera conveys the length of his tomb and the cramped limits confining his movement. Cortes and cinematographer Eduard Grau find a lot of shots in the limited space. Frankly, it was hard to write my notes in this lighting, but I managed to whenever he flicked the lighter or the cell phone rang.
The movie never cheats. There are no shots from outside of the coffin. No cute prologue about how great Paul’s life was before. No cutaways to the crack team of agents going all Jack Bauer on everybody’s asses. You would hope they wouldn’t need filler, but you can’t take it for granted, so props for really sticking with the coffin.
It is a phone game for a while. Paul calls a lot of people with the phone he finds in the coffin with him. That’s used for suspense too because it’s piecing together information, it’s got its own limits and it plays with all the humor and frustration inherent in all of our phone interactions.
The really important parts are when Paul is by himself with no one to talk to, piecing things together and trying to save himself. The film saves its best tricks for later, towards the end. They definitely didn’t blow their wad early. There’s good escalation in the series of complications that befall Paul.
The explanation for why Paul is in this situation is not entirely brilliant. You’ll either like the explanation or not but it shouldn’t ruin the experience. It holds the story together and it pays off in some of the film’s better thrills. Engendering sympathy for Paul is no problem though. The film plays some obvious cards (maybe most blatantly his mom), but the basics work.
There’s also no unnecessary talking. They cram a lot of information into his cell phone conversations, but Paul doesn’t say anything a person wouldn’t reasonably say to himself. Cast Away cheated by letting him talk to that volleyball. The film still needs a cell phone. They couldn’t pull this off pre-1990 but with that magic instrument, we have our high concept thriller.
Ultimately, I don’t think it’s enough to simply sustain the premise for an entire film. I think they could have taken it to the next level Buried is certainly good and worth watching, but it could have been the definitive high concept movie. Instead it’s just one that doesn’t suck.