I really admire the makers of Spanish independent film Buried (director: Rodrigo Cortés) for their total commitment to the premise – Paul Conroy, a US contractor working in Iraq, wakes up trapped in a coffin underground, his air supply running out, and has just a mobile phone to communicate with the outside world to try to effect his release.
The camera stays within the coffin, making it intensely claustrophobic and harrowing to watch. It might seem about as uncinematic an idea as you could come up with as the demands on the audience are more akin to that of theatre - the world outside the wooden coffin is conjured up through phone conversations and the audience’s imaginations must fill in the gaps. Yet the lean script, strictly controlled in action, place and time (thus following Aristotle’s unities or rules for drama) creates a powerful and almost unbearable sense of the protagonist’s predicament, as well as of the world above and political forces.
It’s hard to imagine such a script surviving without radical re-writes in a Hollywood production but I loved the purity of concept (which also made it relatively low budget.)
The ‘closed box’ plot reminded me of another recent film the ‘M. Night Shyamalan presents’ Devil – in which five characters are trapped in a lift, one of whom is the devil – both films have moments of screen blackout, but in Devil the camera travels both inside and outside the lift, making it a less intense experience to watch. Still I enjoyed the 'game' set up by the plot of trying to work out who the murderer was - it has an old-fashioned charm.
You don't need expensive locations and stars to intrigue or move audiences (well not me anyway) and I would love to see more such variety and risk-taking in cinema.