“Buried alive” movies connect to our primal fears, and to our love of “what would I do in that situation?” puzzles.
We can’t all be martial artists with the supernatural will of an Uma Thurman. But we can easily put ourselves in Ryan Reynolds’ place, “Buried” in Iraq with only a cell phone to save us.
Thus, we find ourselves stuck in a Jeep Cherokee with advertising man Jackson Alder (Neil Hopkins) in “Detour,” a minimalistic thriller about a guy who takes the wrong road and winds up underneath a mudslide. Hopkins gives an emotional spark to what could have been a mere technical exercise for the filmmakers — how to tell a story with one actor in a dark, buried car — and a problem-solving tour de force for the screenwriters.
What WOULD you do?
Jackson has no cell reception and little memory of how he got there. The airbag is deployed, his nose bloody, and every window — sunroof included — covered in mud. “A disaster like this would lead to some sort of public response,” he reasons.
So at first he waits. Then he panics. He weeps and watches video of his girlfriend (Brea Grant) on his iPhone. He curses the day he moved to California, draws a cross on a car seat and prays.
He takes inventory in the car. How might this tool from the trunk help, or that ash tray? He bargains. He runs through a lot of Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief.
And every now and then he tries something.
Keeping this interesting, even for the short 87 minute (including credits) run-time of “Detour,” was no mean feat. Director William Dickerson varies the imagery by showing us a subjective camera, then shots Jackson takes with his phone, then hallucinations and flashbacks to the life he used to lead, to video on the phone that further fills that in.
Hopkins (of “Skyline” and a lot of episodic TV) makes this guy compelling and even amusing, on occasion, even if the script is quite thin on story arc, the “doom to redemption” plot that this promises to deliver.
You’ll be rooting for the guy even in his most self-pitying moments — not an easy trick for a movie with so little, visually and thematically, to it.