From the opening credits it’s clear we are in thriller territory.
The opening credits sequence is reminiscent of the best films from Hitchcock. Victor Reyes’ ominous and driving dramatic score is likened to that of Bernard Herrman or John Williams’ bombastic theme music, and the animated opening title recalls Psycho and its ilk. This low budget, incredibly tense and claustrophobic thriller from Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes delivers on its nerve tingling promise.
The set up is very simple yet effective. Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is a civilian truck driver working in Iraq. When his convoy is ambushed, several of his colleagues are killed. Paul wakes to find himself trapped inside a wooden box buried under the ground. He doesn’t know where he is. He has a cigarette lighter, a mobile phone, a knife, a pencil, a drink flask, and not much else. He also has only about 90 minutes of oxygen left. Using the mobile phone he desperately tries to call for help, from his family back home in the States, from the FBI, and even from his own employers. It becomes a race against time as his distant rescuers desperately search a war zone to try and find him.
All of the action is confined to the box where Paul is trapped, making for an intense and claustrophobic experience. Chris Sparling’s economical and taut script manages to work in some pithy criticisms of the war in Iraq and the inefficiency of the US bureaucracy. The plot device of being buried alive has been exploited in numerous novels, TV shows and movies, but here it occupies the whole movie.
Cortes uses natural lighting, and employs a number of directorial flourishes and stylistic tricks to try and wring more suspense from the scenario. And there is the occasional light from the cigarette lighter or the mobile phone screen. Cortes’ direction is tight, and he effectively ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels. The 93 minute running time doesn’t permit any flab, and makes for a nail-biting, white knuckle and relentlessly gripping experience. Cinematographer Eduard Grau works in extreme close-up most of the time, which further heightens the suspense, and there are a few tricky angle shots that reveal the extent of Paul’s predicament.
Reynolds’ resume is full of shallow and unlikeable characters, is better known for his light weight comedic roles. However here he is on screen the whole time, and delivers the performance of his career as the helpless and increasingly desperate Conroy. We are inside there with Conroy, and we squirm uncomfortably along with him.
And when it’s all over we emerge from the confines of the cinema somewhat relieved and thankful to be able to taste fresh air and experience freedom of movement.