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Sundance 2010: Participle Terror



After noting that the Sundance 2010 Park City at Midnight category included films called Frozen and Buried, it occurred to me that the programmers missed an opportunity. Why not craft an entire category of genre thrillers whose titles were participles? Abandoned, Hunted, Regurgitated and Dismembered must be out there somewhere waiting for a slot. ---

But Frozen and Buried share more in common than a grammatical foundation; both films take on the tricky task of finding a feature-film’s worth of tension in trapping their protagonists in a single location. There are really only two key question for anyone crafting a “people trapped somewhere” thriller: 1) how plausible is it that they can’t get help; and 2) how do you sustain the premise once the peril has been established. Writer/director Adam Green does a perfectly decent job of the former, and takes an unusual approach to the latter.

His set-up finds college students Joe (Shawn Ashmore), his best friend Dan (Kevin Zegers) and Dan’s girlfriend Parker (Emma Bell) trapped on a New England ski lift when they scam a ride and the resort shuts down without realizing anyone’s still there. And the resort won’t re-open for four days. And a storm’s coming. Green proves himself to be an impressive director of set pieces, pacing his most intense scenes perfectly for maximum impact. He also takes a risk by including a lot of down time in which the characters hash out their dilemma and their various issues with one another—which might have worked had all that chatter provided a strong foundation for Parker’s character. As it stands, she’s little more than a cute girl in danger—which makes it fortunate that the danger itself will probably have you cringing in your seat.

Audacity points to screenwriter Chris Sparling and director Rodrigo Cortés for remaining ferociously committed to a concept that shouldn’t have worked for 45 minutes, let alone 90. Opening in the dark, they follow Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds)—a civilian truck driver in Iraq—as he finds himself in a wooden coffin underground, held hostage by insurgents. He’s got a little water, a lighter, a few other items and—most significantly—a cell phone. The story unfolds almost entirely through Paul’s conversations on that phone, and Cortés finds just enough visual variations so that 90 minutes of a guy talking on a cell phone in the near dark seems to fly by. But while the opening Saul Bass-esque credits suggest something with a Hitchcock vibe, Buried actually owes more to The Twilight Zone, complete with occasionally heavy-handed social/political allegory—or maybe “allegory” isn’t the right word for something that pretty much underlines its message. This viscerally effective experiment ends up shoveling too much significance over the guy in the box.