Four Different Takes on Being Trapped in Movies

I recently watched Buried, the Ryan Reynolds-in-a-coffin flick that never made it to a theater near me. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the way it ended, and felt like I wasted my time both waiting to watch it, and actually getting to.

Then I thought back to other films in this very small “person is trapped” genre, and found that I have similar feelings for many of those movies.  In fact, there’s only one film I’ve seen that’s gotten it right, and you might know which one I’m talking about.

I decided to do a breakdown of these films and what I thought was good and bad about them. Read below, but watch for spoilers.

Open Water

The Scenario: Two divers are left in the open ocean after their scuba boat heads back to shore mistakenly thinking they’re on board.

Holy Shit That’s Scary: Damn right. You may think you have a chance of being seen by a passing boat or plane, but unless they’re incredibly close, you’re just a tiny spec bobbing in the great sea. Oh, did I mention it’s in shark infested waters?

So How’d That Go: Poorly. Open Water is a great concept for a “man vs. the elements” thriller, but it’s just more sad than anything else. It feels the most real out of the four movies here, with no-name actors and a visceral style of filming, but it’s just all so morbid and hopeless. Rarely if ever is there even a glimmer of home in the film, and slowly the two heroes are whittled down to nothing before ultimately succumbing to their circumstances. It’s just a slow, steady descent to hell, and not one that’s in any way enjoyable to witness.


The Scenario: Three young skiers are trapped on a lift after everyone goes home for the weekend thinking the mountain is clear.

Holy Shit That’s Scary: It may not sound like it at first, but the lift is quite a bit higher than most you’ve been on, so you can’t just jump off into the powder below. As for climbing down the cable? It’s razor sharp. Oh, and if you do manage to get down, there are wolves, lots of wolves.

So How’d That Go: Frozen, despite its “that probably couldn’t ever happen” premise seemed like a good idea. One element in particular sabotaged the whole project however: Wolves. I like the physical challenge of the trio figuring out a way to get themselves down from this suspended position, but once wolves were introduced, that aspect went out the window and the project veered sharply into absurdity. Wolves eat everyone except the final girl because presumably at that point they were just too damn full.


The Scenario: A man wakes up to find himself buried in a coffin underground with only a lighter and a cell phone. Oh, and he’s in Iraq.

Holy Shit That’s Scary: Yes, most definitely, as life is not like Kill Bill and you can’t finger punch your way out. The lack of oxygen, lack of movement and lack of knowing where the hell you are would make this absolutely terrifying.

So How’d That Go: I was eagerly anticipating this movie in theaters, but when I couldn’t find it anywhere I had to wait until it came out on DVD. Turns out I got my hopes up too high. The film is definitely the most intense of any of these, as the close quarters camerawork and lack of scenery or characters puts you in Ryan Reynolds place. Unfortunately, the film itself isn’t terribly well crafted plot-wise, and the “gotcha!” ending which buries Reynolds for good is an unnecessary twist that the movie did not need.

127 Hours

The Scenario: A man  is trapped in a crevasse when a boulder falls on his arm.

Holy Shit That’s Scary: Absolutely, as he’s told no one where he was, and that rock is NOT going anywhere at all.

So How’d That Go: 127 Hours is perhaps the most frightening of any of these films as the entire time you and he KNOW what has to be done. That arm is the only thing holding him there, but would YOU have had the guts to chop it off to live? The fact that this is a true story makes this even better, and a happy ending isn’t the worse thing in the world for this type of film, despite what all these other movies think. There’s a reason only one of these movies got a lot of critical acclaim.

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  1. I loved buried, but agree about the ending. I won’t go into detail here as I hate giving away spoilers, but I would have preferred a different ending to it.

  2. I won’t watch Open Water, friends have told me (and was confirmed again in this article) that the movie is more depressing and bleak then scary – I think they were hoping for shark violence and dolphin rescues.

  3. Buried was such a terrible disappointment…. it wasn’t interesting, nor did it cause me any anxiety watching it. the character was such an idiot and had no sensibility whatsoever.

  4. I think the ending of Buried was brilliant. SPOILER: A really simple plot twist that not only sealed the fate of the main character, but also showed that Mark White and presumably all others this had happened to never got rescued. A suitably dark ending for such a movie.
    I, personally, get really annoyed with people who demand happy endings. Not that unhappy endings are inherently better, mind you, but a well-written script should deserve credit no matter how it treats your emotional investments.

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