Yep, I knew it. I totally knew it. It’s obviously something I’ve suspected for a long time but now, having seen this film, I can finally confirm it for definite… there are absolutely no redeeming features about being buried alive.
It would be an entirely shit thing to happen from start to finish. Definitely one of my least favourite ways to die – along with being set on fire, getting eaten by ants and anything involving arseholes. (For the record, my favourite way would basically be a scenario where I rescued President Obama from terrorists by sacrificially throwing myself off the Empire State Building and then had full-on sex with a really fit babe on the way down...)
That (the buried alive bit) is what befalls Ryan Reynolds in this claustrophobic new thriller. He plays Paul Conroy, a truck driver in Iraq, whose convoy is ambushed by insurgents. He wakes up to find himself locked in a wooden coffin buried somewhere in the desert, his only hope of rescue is the cell phone he finds buried with him. The kidnappers call to tell him that they’ll only let him out if he can wire them “five million money” in the next 90 minutes. With the phone’s battery - along with his oxygen supply - rapidly running out, Paul is in a desperate race against time for survival.
And that’s it, that’s all that happens. This is basically a movie about a man making calls on his mobile - it’s like the plots they have in those Orange cinema ads. Yet somehow the director, Rodrigo Cortés, manages to create an unbearably tense thriller of almost Hitchcockian proportions. As the house lights came up at the end of the film, I realised I’d had both of my hands quite literally wedged inside my mouth the entire time.
The key is how completely realistic the whole thing is. Despite its extreme and high-concept premise, the events that unfold are all entirely plausible – almost mundanely so. As Paul starts frantically making calls, he runs into a wall of nonchalant bureaucrats who treat him more like a crank phoning up to complain about his broadband than someone in a horrific life or death situation. He repeatedly gets put on hold or transferred to an answerphone, which prompted howls of anguish from people in the audience. It’s the classic Catch-22 situation; Paul has to use his phone to get himself rescued, yet every call he makes drains the battery further. He’s just lucky the phone doesn’t have Angry Birds on it; then he’d really be fucked.
Cortés makes the incredibly brave directorial decision not to leave the box, ever. His camera – and therefore his audience – stay underground with Paul throughout his ordeal. There are no outside shots of the desert, no flashbacks to the ambush and no cutaways to worried relatives or grim FBI agents. We hear the voices of the people Paul talks to but never see what they look like. It means we’re essentially buried down there with him and entirely share in his torment.
It does, of course, mean that you basically have nothing else to look at for 94 minutes except Ryan Reynolds’s big sweaty face. So whether or not you go for this film will largely depend on how much you like him as an actor. I was initially apprehensive about this, as I only really knew him from the succession of abominable romcoms he’s been in (Definitely, Maybe – bleeuurgh! The Proposal – even more bleeuurgh!! Adventureland – fucking gallonsof bleeuurgh!! I literally hated that film). I’ve got to say, however, that he’s absolutely brilliant in this, capturing perfectly the emotional progression his character undergoes; from panic to terror, rage to despair, ending finally with a sort of wretched acceptance. He also delivers a performance of almost unendurable pathos in a scene towards the end, where Paul makes one final call to an Alzheimer’s-stricken mother who’s long since forgotten his name. Awards are surely on their way.
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