The simplicity of this film’s plot is equaled only by its absurdity; a guy wakes up in a coffin buried beneath the earth and spends the rest of the movie trying to get out. For many, the premise is immediately laughable and quickly extinguished. Can one really expect to carry and audience for and hour and a half stuck in a single, solitary, claustrophobic location? And what’s more, will anyone care to try?
From a production standpoint this film is genius; one on-screen actor, one location, how they sank $3 million into it its beyond me. I could have filmed the entire thing in my backyard. From a writing standpoint it would be a great experiment in MacGyver-esque problem solving with extreme limitations and very few opportunities. From an acting standpoint it's the chance for an intense and varied one-man-show; you have to carry the whole movie. And from an audience standpoint, especially one with increasingly critical eyes, it's a chance to see just how well the publicity stunt comes off. (Why didn’t Criss Angel star?)
This film could not have existed before the digital age (except of course the period when coffins had a pulley system with an above ground bell because people were afraid of being buried alive, estimated running time- 2 minutes). A guy wakes up buried; he panics, and then dies. The importance of a cell phone is beyond words as a literal and physical lifeline. Is this a plot necessity or a comment on our culture’s incessant need and craving for the devices? A plot necessity of course! Before time and air run out (built-in suspense) our protagonist, Paul, must find out where he is and how someone can get him out. Turns out he is in Iraq and being held ransom by terrorists. I haven’t decided if this is efficient terrorist stratagem or not. You don’t need to hide a body because you already did yet neither does your opponent. Luckily, he finds a few various tools, which nearly all give light. With these, we are able to share the confined experience as he fumbles endlessly with phone calls to the outside world he (SPOILER ALERT) will never see again.
The film is immediately gimmicky and makes no point in going anywhere else. It can’t. Yet for mindlessly simple set-up it manages, despite expectations, to hold on for nearly the entirety of hits running-time. The visuals are varied enough between the different colored light sources and changes in composition that the eyes are not instantly tired. If anything, the film could have developed its claustrophobic intents a bit stronger by resisting long pullouts. Without a doubt the concept is flawed from the beginning but if we lend the freedom, it manages it well. That is until a snake finds he way in and out of his pants and he proceeds to attempt setting it on fire inside of a tiny box. I don’t know if he realized he was also in this tiny box. Regardless, these extreme moments are few and if anything the film should be commended on its success at fulfilling what it set out to do.
That is, bury a man, and follow him for the hour and a half (SPOILER ALERT) leading up to his death. We can argue all day about plot holes and inconsistencies, not limited to talking on the phone upside down. But this would miss the few points that the film tries to make or the comments it offers on our culture. There are so many pressures from uncounted sources that we literally feel trapped and we don’t know how we got there. Or, that one must literally think-outside-the-box to save his life. Or that studios are always confining artistic freedom within an acceptable box to the point that it crushes the artist. Or that the War in Iraq was such a waste; we were literally burying people alive. Or…