Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Ryan Reynolds comes to in complete darkness. Flicking open his zippo lighter he also finds he is confined in a box, with only his lighter, a mobile phone, a couple of fluorescent glow sticks, a pen and a hip flask for company. And it is in this waiting coffin that he - and us - will spend the next 94 minutes. This is Paul Conroy, a US civilian contractor in Iraq, and unless he can manage to come up with $5million for his captor at the other end of the phoneline before his oxygen runs out, the sides of the box are the last thing he'll ever see.

A man in a box is just about as high-concept and minimalist a pitch as you can get for a film and director Rodrigo Cortés really makes the most of it in his debut feature. The tension starts from the moment we hear Conroy's ragged breath in the blackness and never lets up. The claustrophobia alone is enough to generate a creeping sense of menace but Chris Sparling - showing excellent promise with this his first feature screenplay - also finds plenty of disturbing things to say about the nature of America's involvement in Iraq. The horror of one man in a box is matched by the horror of the concept that those he looks to for help - the US State Department, his employer and hostage negotiator Dan Brenner (played by Robert Paterson) - view his predicament as little more than collateral damage.

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The film's chief virtue is that it remains true to itself - there are no sly cutaways to phones ringing in empty apartments or flashbacks to happier times, just Reynolds stuck underground and hoping for rescue. There is desert dry humour, too, in some of the phone calls he makes and fails to make, just enough levity to make the tension hum louder.

Given the confines of the space, it's amazing how physical Reynolds is in the role, bringing a palpable sense of fear to his character's every move, while Sparling and Cortés even manage the magician's trick of working some 'action' into their confined space. Cortés and his cinematographer Eduard Grau are unendingly inventive in their use of angles and shots, while supervising sound editor James Muñoz also brings some clever surprises to the party.

There are one or two leaps of faith required, not least the belief that despite Conroy's lighter blazing away for long periods, the oxygen in the box seems to be in endless supply. The biggest flaw, however, is Paterson - heard over a phone throughout - whose upper-middle class Brit accent sounds stilted and distinctly wooden in comparison to Reynolds. It is important that we utterly believe in this man at the other end of the phone and Paterson simply fails to convince. With redubbing, the film could easily up its star rating. As it stands, remember the names Rodrigo Cortés and Chris Sparling, with this kind of inventiveness and creativity at their disposal, they'll be making a lot more films from here on in.

Reviewed on: 19 May 2010
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Buried packshot
A contractor awakes to find he is buried alive.
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Director: Rodrigo Cortés

Writer: Chris Sparling

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Ivana Miño, Anne Lockhart, José María Yazpik

Year: 2010

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: Spain

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