You open your eyes and are greeted by nothing but darkness. Fumbling around blindly, you can tell that you're in tight quarters but there's no obvious way out. Discovering a butane lighter in your pocket, you flick it on and discover the grim truth of your situation: You are completely sealed inside a plywood box with no aid of any kind beyond what's in your pockets.
This is the ride you take for 94 minutes with yan Reynolds, who plays kidnapped, Iraq-stationed civilian contractor Paul Conroy in director Rodrigo Cortés' sophomore feature
"I was sent this script that many people loved but everybody thought it was impossible to make a movie with. But I felt exactly the opposite," he explained. "I saw the possibility of doing something that had never been done. I love to go against common sense, and everything in this project has been done against common sense. This is the kind of movie that shouldn't be done, it's totally nonsense. It's foolish. It's impossible to make. And that's exactly what attracted me."
Alfred Hitchcock's influence reverberates loudly through the tiny chamber in which our protagonist is stuck — along with the viewing audience — for the length of the film. The confined setting is essential to the staging of the narrative, in that you don't ever really know who to trust. Cortes doesn't shy away from the comparison to the legendary filmmaker either.
"Hitchcock ... came to my mind, because I thought of 'Lifeboat,' for instance, just one boat with six characters never leaving the boat," he said. "So those [sorts of] technical challenges, like 'Rope' and [giving the illusion of] shooting [an entire movie] in a single take, and 'Rear Window,' with respect to [a fixed] point of view." Cortes is quick to name Hitchcock among his five favorite filmmakers, describing his film as " 'North by Northwest' in a box."
Even with aspirations to create a tale of Hitchcock-level suspense, it was a tough sell initially. "Nobody could understand [why I wanted to do it]," Cortes said. "Everybody thought it was an experimental, obscure, strange, dark film."
Sparling's script is where it all started. The pages didn't specify it, but Cortes revealed that a lot of the doubters he spoke to believed that in order to make the film accessible to mainstream audiences, both speakers participating in the film's various phone calls should be shown onscreen. He wasn't having it.
"In my opinion, that was a perfect way to spoil everything, to ruin an amazing idea," Cortes said. "Stories don't have to do with cubic inches, they have to do with [narratives] that evolve or change, you want to know more from them. And that's exactly what happens.
"I didn't want to leave it to the point of view of Paul Conroy," he continued. "I wanted everybody to be inside his shoes. I thought [it was] the key to the whole project. That was the only way of [bringing across] this physical experience. To make everybody feel what being buried for an hour and a half is."
Asked what he'd like viewers to know going into the movie, Cortes said that, in this case, less is more. "That's part of the magic of the film: You never know where you are. And every time you trust a character, you find out that you shouldn't have. At the beginning of the film, you try to trust everybody and at the end of the film you suspect everybody. This is part of the game. This is the roller coaster.
"This is not a film to be seen but a film to be experienced," he continued. "That's the way I made it. I didn't want the film to be seen only with the eyes but also with the muscles and with the bone and with the skin and with the blood. People watch it on the edge of their seats. It's a physical and sensorial experience."
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