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Directed by Rodrigo Cortes

Opens Oct. 1

It makes sense that director Rodrigo Cortes, with his background in shorts, would be eager to tackle the streamlined Buried, in which a man awakes in a wooden coffin with only a cell phone, a lighter, and his wits with which to escape. While the movie has its measure of depth, the appeal also fits neatly into a short question: What do you get when you give an artful director 95 minutes of real time, one actor, a coffin, and a handful of props? The answer is a mostly realistic, mostly engrossing art-thriller, albeit with a few missteps.

Buried zeroes in on Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), an American truckdriver doing contract work in Iraq delivering supplies. His convoy is hit by an IED and he wakes up in a tight wooden box. Making a series of desperate calls—to his wife in Michigan, his sister-in-law, the FBI, his kidnapper, and the British head of hostage relations in Iraq (with an inexplicable 410 area code)—Conroy is frustrated over and over again, reduced to grunting, convulsing, sleeping, and sobbing.

The movie raises a number of well-trodden questions—Are we all just pawns in the bigwigs’ political/media games? Who are the real terrorists?—but falls short of any satisfying answers or even worthy explorations. Still, Cortes’ dazzling, dizzying camerawork and Reynolds’ impressive, totally not Van Wilder performance keep things interesting.

Perhaps Buried’s strangest aspect is its weird ambivalence about cheesily spelling out the plot in its title, as in Snakes on a Plane or Drag Me to Hell. Cortes appears to take a number of cues from Sam Raimi, such as the overblown intro credits score and the gratuitous “dramatic chipmunk” zooms. There’s even a pretty grossly misguided and superfluous sequence involving a CGI rattlesnake menacingly squinting at the camera, flames dorkily reflecting off its eye. At best, Buried may end up a forerunner of minimalist thrillers; at worst, it’s a pretty cool experiment.

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