AUGUST 29, 2010
Since most of my "culture shock" in London was limited to the minor differences in Subway sandwich options (no oil, but they put corn on an Italian cold cut sub?) and the whole "driving on the wrong side" thing (which of course almost got me run over twice in my first day), I didn't have much of an issue living here for a week. I'm the kind of guy who eats the same thing every day and hates any sort of change (getting a new cell phone is basically a world-ending event for me), so I was pretty impressed with myself for adjusting rather quickly and pretty much living normally while I was here in London. But one thing that really floored me was that a film could not show unrated in this particular area; the BBFC (Britain's MPAA) HAD to rate a film with an 18 (NC-17, more or less) before it could show. And since A Serbian Film required far too many cuts to get its 18 rating, the great folks who run Frightfest opted to just pull the film and replace it with Buried, which would probably get a PG-13 if not for language.
Because while it is a very gripping and intense film, the entire thing is Ryan Reynolds trapped in a coffin. He's got a cell phone and some lighting supplies, but otherwise he is the only thing we see for 90 minutes. No violence (we don't see how he got in there), no gore, no nudity (sorry, ladies)... but the dude drops F bombs like he was auditioning to take over at Horror Movie A Day. So it was sort of an ironic replacement; I couldn't imagine two genre films being any less alike.
But man is it a great film. You think it wouldn't be able to sustain itself for that long, but I could have even watched it longer. Reynolds has always been an appealing actor to me; he's often the best thing about lousy films (Amityville, Wolverine), so it's great to see him in something that matches his talents. And he's personable, which keeps you from losing sympathy for the character as he begins screaming at people on the other end of the phone line (poor Donna...). At times, the film could easily lose the audience as a result of his borderline inexcusable behavior, but Reynolds makes it work and even makes it charming - rare has a "fuck you" to a woman who is actually being helpful been a crowd-pleasing moment. He also provides a sarcastic response to a stupid question that killed me - the locale in question should provide him a lifetime membership.
And even though he has to repeat certain information sometimes (we hear who he works for and his job occupation at least a dozen times), the film never gets repetitive. You would think that 90 minutes would be too long for such a simple plot, but writer Chris Sparling manages to keep the tension high and the drama compelling. The slowly dying phone battery, the eventual sand leak, a snake (!!!)... there's almost enough here to make up a movie even if the phone was just there to provide light and a camera to record video messages.
But most of the movie is him on the phone, trying to get help and also contact his family. Bureaucratic government agencies, his employer, the aforementioned bitch Donna (whose relation to Reynolds I forget)... these are the only other "actors" in the film, and some are recognizable voices (Stephen Tobolowsky as his employer's lawyer is the most recognizable, and he is spot on perfect for the particular role he has to play). Again, we have to hear his basic story over and over, but each provides a different sort of tension, be it whether or not his employer will help him, or if the government is even looking for him, or whether he can figure out how to get the number on the cell phone (it's not his, and it's not in English) in order for the kidnapping task force to track his signal. And again, he's trying to contact his family before it's too late, which provides the film with its heart. I will admit I teared up at one point, due to a "that's probably what I would do/say" moment near the film's end that just wrecked me (being 6000 miles away from home for a week didn't help).
It's also, shockingly, amazingly shot. Apart from one intentionally surreal moment, it doesn't seem like the camera is in some impossible location, nor does the coffin seem oversized for convenience's sake. And yet, director Rodrigo Cortés manages to make the film visually interesting throughout; constantly finding new angles and even lighting schemes (blue cell light, orange lighter, green night lights provided by the kidnappers, and a red flashlight!). And Reynolds moves around a bit (causing him some pain it seems), so it's not like Kill Bill with him just laying on his back punching the roof of the coffin the whole time.
So in a way I'm kind of glad that Serbian was pulled. I hate the reason why (as several folks said, everyone in the theater was an adult and adults should be able to see whatever they want), but there were so many dark/depressing movies already, it was nice to have something slightly more enjoyable in a conventional sense. I mean, yeah, it's essentially a movie about dying in the most horrible way possible, but Reynolds provides some humor and it never causes an audience to recoil in disgust, as Serbian certainly would have, from what I understand. And I suspect it will be one of those movies that I'd get sick of hearing how great it was by the time I saw it and end up being disappointed, so I'm glad I got to be one of those folks who "overhype" it for everyone else, hahaha. Lionsgate is releasing it this fall, I assume in some sort of normal release (and not a Blood Creek style "let's dump it in shit budget theaters no one's ever heard of" way) - I urge you to check it out. It MIGHT work just as well at home (is this the first film that takes place entirely in an area smaller than the screen the audiences saw it on?), but originality, not to mention great, award-worthy acting in a horror film, are things that should be financially supported. Over the past few days I saw a lot of films that will never ever see a proper release in the States, and this is one of the few that's not suffering the same fate - let's reward the Gate for their decision, yeah?
What say you?