115 minutes approx
Cameron Diaz -
James Marsden -
Arlington Steward -
Written by -
Directed by -
Arthur and Norma are a fairly normal couple. He works for NASA on the Mars Viking project, she teaches in the local private academy. They have one son and everyone is very well adjusted. Then Arlington Steward arrives with a box containing a button. Push the button, he tells them and someone they don't know will die. They, however, will get 1 million dollars.
Writer/director Richard Kelly burst onto the science fiction scene with DONNIE DARKO, a twisty turny tale of a slacker teen being stalked by a giant evil-looking bunny. That was a big hit, though never quite made it into the mainstream. His follow up SOUTHLAND TALES was an ambitious, sprawling, incoherent mess that nobody understood let alone liked.
THE BOX falls, fortunately, somewhere between the two and much closer to the DONNIE DARKO end of the scale. It's an assured, confident science fiction thriller that hasn't quite got the content to fill out a feature film's running time and so gets a bit rambling somewhere around the middle before finally pulling itself back together for a challenging finish.
It starts off low key enough with the arrival of the box and its attendant moral dilemma. The button, of course, gets pushed (there wouldn't be a film otherwise), though it is interesting that it is pushed more out of need to make a decision, to take control, than for the money. The couple certainly don't seem short of cash and only lip service is made by the script to financial difficulties. There' certainly nothing like the desperation that might drive such a decision. Once the decision has been made, the film moves into the investigation as Arthur tries to track down the mysterious Mr Steward and it's here that the film starts to lose its focus. Had it stuck to tracking down the man and revealing his purpose it would have been much tighter and better, but it gets diverted off down a cul-de-sac involving a game of 'pick the dimensional portal' (that's never going to sell to the TV networks).
Once Steward's nature and purpose are finally revealed (through a clunky piece of expositionary dialogue) the film pulls itself back on track to reveal that the moral dilemma facing the couple with the box is only the precursor to another, more personal but equally deadly dilemma and the film has the courage, at least, to see that through to the end without copping out.
Cameron Diaz and James Marsden are perfectly fine as the couple and Frank Langella is scarily low-key and matter of fact about the deadly game he is playing. He is gifted with a CGI wound to the face that is never less than convincing and always terrifying. These three manage to anchor the more fantastical elements that are trying to derail the movie.
The 1970s are flawlessly depicted and everyone will remember having wallpaper in their own home that was just as horrible as shown here (we certainly remember) and the background is necessarily ordinary to bring out the wierdness of what is happening.
THE BOX is far from perfect, but it has a killer premise (from the short story Button, Button by the masterful Richard Matheson) and the will to see it through to the satisfyingly downbeat ending and if you make it through the flabby midsection then you will feel that it has been worthwhile.Top
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