As cinematic hooks go, this has to go down as one of the bravest/craziest: one actor on-screen, stuck in a coffin for the entire run-time as events play out in pretty close to real-time. And, as if that doesn’t sound claustrophobic enough for you, I’ve heard of showings organised where people have volunteered to be buried.
I don’t know how that little experiment in extreme movie watching worked out but the film, on a large cinema screen, begins on black. Not the usual movie darkness it must be noted, where everything is a tinge of blue; but on complete and utter pitch blackness. It fills the screen; smothers it. It holds on this for a good minute or so before we hear Ryan Reynolds’ Paul Conroy waking up. Some small illumination eventually comes from his Zippo lighter as he wakes up to discover himself bound and buried somewhere in Iraq. If you can believe it, things get worse from there…
Being a one-man, one (cramped) location show, there has to be some drama and confrontation brought in from external sources. Some of these instances work magnificently and heighten the tension and sense of frustration; various cell phone-calls to nightmarishly bureaucratic figures are exercises in frustration, as no-one takes him seriously and no-one wants to take responsibility. They put him on hold (on hold!) while they try and make decisions, hearing him but not listening.
It’s these types of situations, the seemingly small things, that really work best in helping to crank up that tension so your heart is pounding and your gut is wrenched. A phone-call between Reynolds and Stephen Tobolowsky’s none-more-asshole Human Resources boss is achingly painful to sit through. Other times things nudge perilously close to (and possibly a tippy toe over) the line of believability and plausibility. But, overall, Reynolds and director Rodrigo Cortes must be applauded for having the stones to never, not once in all the runtime, leave the confines of the coffin. There are no cutaways to the people on the other end of the phone, no instances of following the would-be rescuers or captors. Nothing. No respite.
I left the cinema feeling physically nauseous and dizzy from the claustrophobic tension; overwhelmed by that ever-present darkness. I can only imagine what those crazy bastards who watched it while buried felt.