Senior Editor
01.24.10 36 Comments

Faux-Artsy (Fartsy) Torture Porn

If Winter’s Bone is everything’s that’s right with film festivals, Buried is pretty close to the opposite.  It stars Ryan Reynolds, has a provocative premise (Ryan Reynolds plays a civilian contractor taken captive in Iraq and buried underground in a coffin with only a cell phone, a lighter, and a flashlight), and arrived much hyped to a packed screening.  And it seems only to be an exercise in sadism from a director who wants you to feel like you’re buried in the desert for 90 minutes for no apparent reason other than to feel discomfort and pain.  It’s basically arthouse torture porn.

Wait, so it’s just Ryan Reynolds inside this box, there are no other actors in the movie, and he never leaves the box?

Correct.  The hook is ‘how’s this guy going to make a movie out of 90 minutes of Ryan Reynolds in a coffin?’ People are curious, we want to see how someone might accomplish this. Enter director Rodrigo Cortés, who proves that it can be done, but never comes close to justifying why it should be.  To quote Chris Rock, “You could drive a car with your feet if you want to, that don’t make it a good f*ckin’ idea.”

Why not?  Put it this way: have you ever watched a movie where bad things keep happening to a good person, and you want to root for that person, but they continue to react to adversity in such an idiotic way that you start wishing they would just die?  It’s like that.  Allow me to sum up the plot:

FBI CONTACT: “You’re getting a cell signal, so that means you can’t be more than a few feet underground.”
RYAN REYNOLDS: “Hurrrr, I’m not going to try to dig myself out for this entire movie.”

FBI CONTACT: “Take your cell phone off vibrate to conserve your battery.”
RYAN REYNOLDS: “Hurrr, I’m going to leave my cell phone on vibrate and let it ring at least three times before I pick it up for the entire movie.”

IRAQI HOSTAGE TAKER: “Down by your left side you will find a knife.”
RYAN REYNOLDS:  “Hurrrr, thanks, I’m not going to use this for anything useful at all.”

CELL PHONE:  “Hi, I’m your cell phone.  Here’s my English-language setting.”
RYAN REYNOLDS:  “Hurrrr, thanks, English setting, it only took me 40 minutes of screen time to find you.”

SNAKE: “Hey, I’m a snake, I’m gonna chill in your coffin for a little while.”
RYAN REYNOLDS:  “Hurrr, that’s a nice hole you came from, Mr. Snake. I’m not going to investigate it at all in any way.”

IRAQI HOSTAGE TAKER: “Make us a propaganda video with your phone.”
RYAN REYNOLDS: “Hurrr, great idea, I should do that and then not pursue any media contacts at all.  I’d hate to put any pressure on anyone to come find me.”

FBI CONTACT: “Sit tight, keep your cell phone on, we’ve got a bead on your signal, it should only be a few minutes.”
RYAN REYNOLDS: “Hurrr, I’m gonna hang up and call my girlfriend.”

As you might have gathered, this was the kind of movie that not only wasn’t good, but made me actively pissed at the people who made it.  As a middle-class caucasian, I’ve rarely had occasion to scream advice or insults at the screen, and never before have I wanted to so badly.  If you’re going to make a supposedly-realistic movie about Ryan Reynolds in a box in the desert, you have an obligation to make his character behave semi logically.  Not only does he constantly do inexplicable things, the movie offers no insight to justify why we’d want to feel trapped in a coffin for 90 minutes, and tries to compensate for it by continually upping the ante on how crappy a situation this could be.

Hey, I’m stuck in a coffin.
Guess what, now you’re stuck in a coffin with a snake!  And now it’s on fire!  Also, you’re going to call your company and someone’s going to fire you over the phone.  While you’re stuck in a coffin.  Because corporate America is evil.  Cartoonishly, preposterously evil, like Hilary Swank’s family in Million Dollar Baby.

Why?  The only answer I can glean seems to be “Because f*ck you, audience.”  The whole thing made me feel like Kilgore Trout, the character Kurt Vonnegut invented only to torture.  Unfortunately, neither director Rodrigo Cortés nor writer Chris Sperling are Kurt Vonnegut.  This was 90 minutes that felt like an eternity.  *fart sound*  –Note: When the movie ended and people started applauding, I actually made a loud fart sound with my mouth.  It exploded from me almost involuntarily after I’d stifled it the entire movie.

Grade: D-

Other notes:

  • At some point, the thought crossed my mind that standing in line for two hours getting buzzed on bourbon before seeing a movie about a guy trapped in a coffin might not be the best idea.  I should’ve listened to that thought.
  • All the other movie blogger types (Neil from FilmSchoolRejects, Peter from /Film, Alex and Brendan from FirstShowing, Eric Vespe from AICN, one of the guys from GordonandtheWhale whose name escapes me — pleasant fellows, all) that attended the screening seemed to love it, with varying degrees of intensity.  But I turned around during the middle of the film and saw at least five people sleeping.  I envied them.
  • Ryan Reynolds attended the Q & A afterwards.  I can report that he is a funny and exceedingly charming gentleman.  He may not be Philip Seymour Hoffman in terms of acting ability, but he has genuine charisma and seems like a nice guy. I hope this film gives him all the indie cred he needs in order to not have to do movies in which Sandra Bullock’s Blackberry gets attacked by eagles.

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