The Box: Movie Review (2009)

11/08/2009 Posted by Admin

Movie Review

The Box

Written and directed by Richard Kelly, rated PG-13, 115 minutes.

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti.

It is 1973. Richmond, Virginia. Arthur and Norma Lewis (James Marsden and Cameron Diaz) are supporting themselves and their young son Walter paycheck by paycheck. Walt's tuition is going up, and Arthur, who works in optics for NASA at Langley Research Base, discovers he's been rejected from the astronaut program. It is in this tight financial dilemma that they receive a box on their doorstep early in the morning--a box, which contains inside a device upon which a small red button sits on top. The couple is told by a mysterious, disfigured man, Arlington Steward (Oscar-nominee Frank Langella), that they have a choice--push the button, someone who they do not know will die, and they will receive, in tax-free cash, $1 million.

Or they can refuse the offer, and the button shall be taken back and offered to someone else.

Anyone who happens to be familiar with the previous work of writer and director Richard Kelly ("Donnie Darko") will probably expect that all of this is not so simple, and they'd be right. Combining aspects of horror, surrealism, science fiction and philosophy, Kelly's film is more than the look at morality author Richard Matheson's original story "Button, Button" intended to be. It's a mysterious look at humanity's relation with each other and our natural world, and Kelly fills the movie to the brim with his typical mix of existentialism and dread.

There is an extreme unease from the start. Nothing seems quite right in Arthur and Norma's world--people around them act strangely. There seem to be people always watching. Mysteriously, the National Security Agency is overlooking NASA's current Mars projects. And why does Arlington Steward seem so oddly familiar?

The film is almost dreamlike, its vibrant but subtly blurred images at constant altercation with the taut and disturbing subject matter. Often, it's difficult to tell what is real and what is imagined. This is something Kelly has been working with since the beginning of his career, and he's become quite adept at it. Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, frontman and woman of the Canadian band Arcade Fire, provide a score reminiscent of "The Twilight Zone" and horror films of the '70s, and it works incredibly well with Kelly's darker-than-dark atmosphere.

The film approaches absurdity on occasion, with the performances becoming less intense and more hammy, which works in some scenes but tends to ruin the tone in others. This occurs most often in the last half, where the plot becomes incredibly complex and, to be honest, a bit convoluted with Kelly's overwrought literary and philosophical intentions.

Anyone going into "The Box" expecting a simple everyday thriller surely will be surprised with what they get--a dismal, morally complicated piece of sci-fi surrealism. The audience's enjoyment will ultimately depend on whether they are prepared for such a film. Personally, I was engaged, intrigued, and most importantly, entertained from the start. Kelly's work can certainly become a bit overwhelmed with self-indulgence on occasion, but he is truly an original and thoughtful talent.

Grade: B

View the trailer for "The Box" below:

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  1. Anonymous said...

    Anyone who does not appreciate this movie has obviously not seen Stanley Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey nor read Jean-Paul Sartre or much philosophy. No matter how esoteric this movie, it is quite brilliant! Bravo!!

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