About a week ago a colleague of mine asked why in the world I wanted to go see The Box. I explained that I found the premise fascinating. What if you were told that if you pushed a certain button, you would get a million dollars, but there is a catch. When you push the button, somebody you do not know will die. What would you do?
Therein lies the premise of The Box. This is the third film by Richard Kelly, who garnered cult-like status with Donnie Darko (2001), then wide ridicule for his follow up Southland Tales (2006). Lots of movie types were looking toward this movie to determine whether Kelly is a gifted director, or a one hit wonder. I’m sorry to tell you after viewing this convoluted mess, it seems like a case of the director having no clothes. It’s one thing to be a little avant-garde with your vision, another entirely to just throw weird crap in your movie and hope that it sticks.
Cameron Diaz (with a horrid accent) plays Norma, a school teacher. Her husband Arthur (James Marsden) works for NASA and just found out he did not make it into the astronaut program. Norma has a disfigurement, and needs surgery, but they have no money.
A severely disfigured stranger (Robert Langella) presents the couple with the box, and explains the conditions. He leaves them with the box with the promise of returning later that day. A desperate Norma pushes the button on the box, over her husband’s protests. That’s the last bit of coherent plot, you’re on your own for the last hour and a half.
The Box is based on a short story by Richard Matheson, which was eventually turned into a very good Twilight Zone episode. This film uses the episode’s ending as a jumping-off point of sorts. The last two-thirds of the movie is all Kelly’s vision of what takes place after the button is pushed.
There are references to aliens, government conspiracies, something to do with NASA, occasional philosophical references, and frequent nosebleeds peppered throughout the narrative. Why? I don’t know, nor will you. The film lacks any cohesiveness, and none of the story threads conclude with any hint of logic. It feels like Kelly kept thinking of things he wanted to add to the movie, but that he never completed a single idea.
It’s a maddening movie to sit through, because all this extemporaneous “noise” seriously muddles the film. If Kelly could have just streamlined the movie, it might have been scary and thought provoking. Instead, it’s just a convoluted mess.
On a bright note, the film looks good. It takes place in the 1970’s, which are faithfully rendered here. The CGI effects are quite good, too. There is also a nice score by Arcade Fire (who recently gained popularity with the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are.)
Unless you are up for a punishing two hours, better not push the button to buy a ticket to this film.