'Buried' (R)

Buried opens with a long, sustained shot of darkness accompanied by labored breathing, grunting and rustling noises. Eventually, we hear the flick of a lighter, and with the flame we see the predicament Paul (Ryan Reynolds) is in. He’s been buried alive inside a coffin-size wooden box. He has no idea where he is or how he got there. At his feet is a bag containing a cell phone, a pencil, some glow sticks and a couple of other items. Just reaching the bag, however, requires a Herculean effort, since the rectangular box is too narrow for Paul to turn around in.

You’ll get no more plot details here – this is a movie best seen cold – other than a confirmation that all of Buried does indeed take place entirely inside that coffin, and that director Rodrigo Cortes never wavers in his conviction: He sees this potential stunt of a picture through to its harrowing end, and the result is a much more surprising and inventive ride than you might imagine.

A big part of Buried‘s success rests with Reynolds, who is the only actor we see, for the duration of the film, often in close-up. Reynolds must not only sustain our interest in Paul and make us care about him: He must also give us a range of emotions to respond to, because watching a man panic and freak out for 90 minutes is no one’s idea of entertainment.

But Buried, despite its seemingly impossible premise, is by turns funny, suspenseful, moving and – in one heart-stopping sequence worthy of Indiana Jones – incredibly exciting. The script, by Chris Sparling, consists of Paul’s figuring out a way to escape his predicament, and although that process consists primarily of a lot of phone calls, the people he speaks to form a veritable supporting cast. Their voices become distinct, recognizable characters.

To say that Buried induces claustrophobia doesn’t begin to describe the movie’s impact – walking back outside has never felt so good – but Cortes uses an endless variety of camera tricks and lighting schemes to ward off monotony. You’re dying for Paul to get out of there, but you’re never bored for a minute. Aside from being a showcase for Reynolds’ considerable, previously untapped talent, Buried is also the work of an imaginative director testing the boundaries of the cinematic medium as a vehicle for storytelling. The result is more than a success: You won’t be able to stop thinking about Buried for days after you see it.

Cast: Ryan Reynolds.

Director: Rodrigo Cortes.

Screenwriter: Chris Sparling.

Producer: Peter Safran.

A Lionsgate Films release. Running time: 90 minutes. Vulgar language, violence. In Miami-Dade: Aventura, Paragon Grove; in Broward: Paradise, Sawgrass.