5 Ways Buried Made Its Single Location the Most Terrifying Ever

A decade after its debut, the claustrophobic Ryan Reynolds thriller is still a showcase for his talents and a tension-filled nightmare.

by | September 24, 2020 | Comments

Ryan Reynolds in Buried

(Photo by ©Lionsgate courtesy Everett Collection)

Sometimes, when a movie is set entirely in one location, it’s a sure bet that the filmmakers were able to squeeze their budget for every penny, and you can tell that’s the only logical reason why the characters seem unable to go anywhere else. But there are some movies that manage to use this limitation to great effect.

In the case of thrillers or horror movies, the use of a single location can serve to increase the tension through a feeling of claustrophobia, something typically alleviated in other films by cutting away to a new location. One of the best examples of this is the 2010 film Buried, in which Ryan Reynolds plays an American contractor named Paul Conroy who is working as a truck driver in Iraq when he gets kidnapped and, well, buried in a wooden box somewhere in the desert.

To mark its 10th anniversary, let’s grab our Zippo lighters and Blackberry phones as we dive into what makes Buried so terrifyingly effective.

It Wears Its Hitchcockian Influences on Its Sleeve

Ryan Reynolds in Buried

(Photo by ©Lionsgate courtesy Everett Collection)

The director of Buried, Rodrigo Cortés, cites Alfred Hitchcock as a major influence on the film, and it shows. The film begins with an extended credits sequence that instantly brings to mind the work of legendary graphic designer Saul Bass, who designed the credit sequences of many of Hitchcock’s thrillers, like North by Northwest and Vertigo. From there, the movie utilizes some of the Master of Suspense’s most effective techniques and adapts them to fit the more modern script, including the real-time suspense of Rope, the confined location of Lifeboat and Rear Window, and even the creative use of lighting that comes from the main character’s phone and Zippo lighter, effectively contrasting the warmer hues of the latter with the cooler ones of the former.

It’s Incredibly Claustrophobic

You’d think that spending 95 minutes in a single, confined location would grow stale rather quickly, but somehow Buried manages to keep it feeling fresh throughout its runtime. The film rarely uses the same shot twice, and for the most part, it plays in real time, adding to the sense of dread as the clock continues to tick. As the story progresses, viewers are also introduced to new elements that threaten Paul, like a snake that finds its way into the coffin for a snuggle.

Cortés and his cinematographer Eduard Grau compensate for the film’s minuscule set by finding novel angles from which to shoot Paul’s suffering. Multiple coffins were built for the film, allowing the camera crew to capture those impossible angles, getting as uncomfortably close to Reynolds — or as far removed, as if we’re seeing Paul from above the ground — as needed. The resulting effect adds greater tension to the film, as it plays with the audience’s expectations that Paul will manage to break free eventually.

Ryan Reynolds Rises to the Challenge

Ryan Reynolds in Buried

(Photo by ©Lionsgate courtesy Everett Collection)

Ryan Reynolds had already dabbled in several genres by the time he made Buried, but he was still mostly known for romantic comedies like Definitely, Maybe and The Proposal. His intimate and emotional turn as Paul in Buried helped prove he had more than one ace up his sleeve.

Because we never cut away to what’s happening outside of the wooden box Paul finds himself in, the entire plot unfolds via various hysterical phone calls he makes to ask for help. These serve both to provide exposition for Paul’s predicament (and the efforts to rescue him) and to function as vessels for the drama that slowly but steadily sketches the details of Paul’s life. Reynolds has never been as believable or understated as he is in this movie, and the more we find out about his personal life — like tensions with his wife’s friends, the death of his father, his mother’s dementia — the more we realize Paul was dead inside long before he was trapped in the coffin.

Single-location movies hang on the shoulders of its actors. Locke wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does without Tom HardyAndre Gregory and Wallace Shawn make My Dinner with Andre more than just another banal conversation. Likewise, Reynolds delivers an incredibly raw performance in Buried, and it’s because of him that the movie works.

Its Sound Design Stands Out

Since we don’t get a lot of visual stimulation in Buried, the film lets sound do some of the heavy lifting to tell its story. We’ve talked about how much of the plot is revealed through a series of phone calls, but sound designer James Muñoz brings Paul’s suffocating world to life. The wood creaking, the sand falling in from holes in the lid, the burst of the lighter igniting, Paul’s panicked breathing — these sounds rise and fall in intensity with razor-sharp attention to detail to maximize their effectiveness in increasing the tension. The moments when Paul resigns himself to darkness turn even the slightest noise into an instantly bone-chilling encounter with the unknown.

It Commits to Its Premise and Sticks the Landing – Hard

The problem with single-location movies is that, more often than not, they cut away from the main setting to give us a flashback, or allow the protagonist to escape their predicament halfway through in order to move the action to a new level. Buried doesn’t do this. For 95 minutes straight, we are stuck in a coffin with Paul. No matter how many people he calls on the phone during the film’s runtime, he is the only person we see. There is no flashback to his kidnapping, no cutaway to his weeping wife, no check-in with his captors, just Paul. This heightens the tension, as it plays with the audience’s expectation that, at some point, we’ll eventually see something other than the coffin, until we don’t.

Arguably the boldest decision the movie makes is not to rescue Paul. He dies as the coffin fills with sand, and the man in charge of rescuing him can only apologize over and over on the phone. The film literally never leaves Paul’s side, and it ultimately cuts to the credits without a happy resolution. It’s a risky choice not to offer any relief to the audience after watching this man suffer for an hour and a half, and if the unconventional nature of the rest of the film didn’t already turn off some viewers, it’s likely the ending did. But that choice is the only right one to make for a movie that spends its entire runtime subverting expectations; when the lights go up, we are all still trapped in that coffin with Paul, and the realization hits like a ton of bricks. That’s the brilliance of Buried, one of the best single-location thrillers ever crafted.

Buried opened in limited release on September 24, 2010. It is available to rent or buy on FandangoNOW, Vudu, Google Play, and iTunes, and it is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu.

Tag Cloud

YouTube Red Food Network mutant disaster Martial Arts Netflix movies Warner Bros. true crime CW Seed what to watch stoner worst psychological thriller Mary Poppins Returns Holiday game show concert Premiere Dates Spectrum Originals all-time LGBT chucky IFC Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt adventure adaptation screen actors guild Acorn TV TLC The Academy latino New York Comic Con Lionsgate SDCC franchise Comedy 2017 FX YouTube Premium Tubi Podcast See It Skip It italian IFC Films cinemax award winner Interview mission: impossible ABC Signature football thriller PlayStation Teen quibi Election Box Office ratings toy story Pet Sematary Vudu satire canceled hist serial killer spinoff BBC One breaking bad Comedy Central james bond sitcom 99% spain TCA Schedule Apple TV+ nfl E! Oscars DC streaming service Musical stop motion Disney Channel A24 asian-american Rocky parents cancelled TV series Sneak Peek Cosplay First Reviews hollywood HBO independent singing competition 4/20 cults 24 frames Disney streaming service political drama GLAAD Pride Month CBS sports E3 Anna Paquin Animation TCM Fall TV Sony Pictures dceu MCU Mary poppins period drama spanish halloween tv Disney Plus Epix space TruTV Character Guide science fiction golden globe awards Nickelodeon Best and Worst BET Turner fresh Lucasfilm nbcuniversal FOX justice league Photos Academy Awards strong female leads Holidays nature die hard crime thriller Marvel Studios werewolf docudrama crime Music Arrowverse DC Comics Comics on TV Reality Competition TIFF crossover blockbuster a nightmare on elm street talk show Fantasy Travel Channel Thanksgiving 2020 festivals name the review Brie Larson fast and furious ESPN animated Apple TV Plus natural history halloween Grammys Binge Guide ITV casting Alien zombies romance Infographic History Elton John NYCC TCA Awards National Geographic DGA Amazon venice foreign Creative Arts Emmys sag awards Winter TV Nominations Christmas BAFTA spanish language renewed TV shows indie indiana jones Rom-Com Ghostbusters Discovery Channel jamie lee curtis green book Crackle boxoffice First Look OneApp directors dragons Film Quiz universal monsters 45 The Witch biography video on demand RT History spy thriller Hallmark Christmas movies Mindy Kaling australia Emmys theme song Bravo Freeform 21st Century Fox TCA 2017 kids zombie Paramount Ovation black children's TV travel ABC revenge unscripted comedies Shondaland MSNBC remakes Lifetime Christmas movies 2019 Syfy mockumentary cancelled movie The Purge Sci-Fi hispanic based on movie Nat Geo festival Television Academy Black Mirror Summer book rotten movies we love Biopics TV Tomatazos psycho ghosts Hulu Calendar Crunchyroll 2018 The Walking Dead MTV Video Games Pirates TV One Writers Guild of America versus Britbox 71st Emmy Awards robots Extras BET Awards dc anthology A&E joker cancelled TV shows APB Endgame Family finale GIFs game of thrones 72 Emmy Awards TCA Winter 2020 Fox News tv talk Star Wars emmy awards politics Universal Cartoon Network scary movies Turner Classic Movies Awards Tour screenings vampires free movies Marvel The CW Pixar composers GoT deadpool laika AMC Winners Awards trailers child's play boxing American Society of Cinematographers sequels 2015 harry potter SundanceTV Rocketman Stephen King worst movies romantic comedy Apple rt archives CBS All Access Horror cooking OWN Avengers Logo DirecTV Star Trek Paramount Network Television Critics Association TNT President TBS supernatural video classics El Rey DC Universe war scorecard Sundance Now Classic Film Superheroes Disney rotten Pop TV criterion Women's History Month VICE RT21 Columbia Pictures Mudbound binge dogs Rock elevated horror stand-up comedy Esquire YouTube Action aliens medical drama archives slashers Certified Fresh miniseries Trophy Talk Hear Us Out news pirates of the caribbean toronto transformers series Western Marathons social media Trivia cancelled television Valentine's Day cars witnail zero dark thirty PBS Marvel Television YA Peacock Walt Disney Pictures Dark Horse Comics jurassic park christmas movies FX on Hulu Adult Swim south america HBO Max Mystery reviews rom-coms Captain marvel VH1 richard e. Grant ABC Family FXX Heroines batman NBC diversity french Superheroe comiccon PaleyFest Disney+ Disney Plus doctor who Chilling Adventures of Sabrina sequel CNN Funimation Hallmark CMT Toys anime canceled TV shows discovery Spike television dark documentary comics USA Network Film Festival crime drama 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Pop 2016 twilight critics ID golden globes Starz Red Carpet comic books Mary Tyler Moore Masterpiece superhero japanese historical drama Song of Ice and Fire 20th Century Fox Trailer The Walt Disney Company USA dramedy SXSW Spring TV Countdown best TV renewals BBC America WGN Emmy Nominations Amazon Prime Video Drama technology obituary Netflix Christmas movies TV Land Super Bowl Shudder documentaries Year in Review cops Sundance Showtime Baby Yoda BBC Reality Musicals cats Black History Month Tumblr Amazon Prime Ellie Kemper Amazon Studios Lifetime police drama Set visit Opinion Watching Series streaming Polls and Games Sundance TV HBO Go Cannes Kids & Family 007 Comic Book blaxploitation spider-man Country WarnerMedia comic cartoon Chernobyl reboot teaser San Diego Comic-Con Fox Searchlight facebook films The Arrangement VOD Tarantino X-Men LGBTQ