Release Date:  September 24 (limited); October 8, 2010 (expands)
Rating:  R (for language and some violent content)
Genre:  Drama, Suspense, Mystery
Run Time:  95 min.
Director:  Rodrigo Cortés
Actors:  Ryan Reynolds, Samantha Mathis, José Luis Garcia Pérez, Robert Paterson, Stephen Tobolowsky, Warner Loughlin, Ivana Mino, Kali Rocha

If you're deathly afraid of tightly confined spaces, then Buried is probably your worse nightmare stretched out into a positively terrifying 95-minute film.

An ode to Alfred Hitchcock's decidedly experimental, single-set fare like Rope and Lifeboat, Buried is the story of Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds, devoid of any of his usual rom-com charms and those superhero muscles), a civilian contractor who accepted a job in war-torn Iraq and now, with no explanation, has been buried alive with nothing more than a cell phone, a cheap Zippo lighter, a sharp knife and a glow stick.

Speaking of Paul's new surroundings, a heavy wooden coffin, that's where the entire film takes place—something that Reynolds admitted he's still haunted by in a recent interview with USA Today. And really, who could blame him? Thanks to a seemingly never-ending supply of tight camera shots and rather limited lighting in those incredibly close quarters, the audience can't help feeling equally claustrophobic while tuning in.

In fact, it's the sheer lack of oxygen and the absence of tidy flashback scenes that most directors would've used to build sympathy for Paul that make Buried so effective. Proving that horrifying movies don't need huge budgets and elaborate set-ups to be downright chilling (just an intriguing fight for life and a cell phone as a supporting character will do), Buried manages to sustain its verve over 95 minutes with a few clever flourishes. And for the record, if anyone has ever wondered if an action scene works well in the cozy confines of a box, let's just say that a large, slithering snake is way, way scarier in a coffin than a plane.

If the whole trapped-underground situation wasn't already scary enough, Paul's unsuccessful contact with the outside world certainly doesn't help matters. Not only is he unable to get connected with his wife (voiced by Samantha Mathis) or his neighbors who are more interested in getting to the grocery store than actually lending a hand, but Paul is now facing demands from his Iraqi captors that he's not able to meet, namely a $5 million ransom in two hours.

Sadly, further cries for help also fall on mostly deaf ears. After making his way through the annoying phone pyramid, the bane of everyone's customer service experience, a United States military hostage expert basically wishes him the best while stringing him along with a lie about someone rescued in a similar situation. Further adding insult to injury, a representative of the driving company Paul works for basically wants to make sure he's not going to sue by having him agree that he accepted the job, fully knowing it might be dangerous.

Despite having the odds seriously stacked against him, one still can't help rooting for Paul every step of the way, especially when he finally does hear back from his wife, just as his phone is starting to run out of power. His touching apology to her about where he'd fallen short in their life together, not to mention his obvious love for his son, is endearing without an ounce of sappiness.

So does Paul make it out alive? Well, to say anything more would rob any potential viewers of Buried's charms. But I will say this:  It's refreshing to see a popular actor expand his repertoire and suffer a little for his art—especially when it pays off in such rewarding dividends.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Paul takes anxiety medicine.

  • Language/Profanity:  The Lord's name is taken in vain in a couple of instances. Paul often uses the "f" word when conveying his utter dismay. A few other milder expletives are used as well (he--, d--n).

  • Sex/Nudity:  Paul, who is married with a young son, is accused of fraternizing with a fellow employee, which he repeatedly indicates is not true.

  • Violence:  In a disturbing video clip on his phone, Paul's co-worker is fatally shot (and we see it all go down). Paul is also pretty beat up himself when he wakes up in the coffin.

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.