The Box (2009)

November 10, 2009 - 12:53pm | Johnny D
  Tags: based on short story, button, Cameron Diaz, Darko Entertainment, James Marsden, Radar Pictures, Richard Kelly, Richard Matheson, the box

Your rating: None Average: 5.3 (10 votes)
Reviewer Rating: 

Rating #: 
Richard Kelly
Cameron Diaz, Frank Langella, James Marsden

Man, are people going to fucking HATE this movie.  Not just simple dislike and forget about it.  This is the movie that will make uber nerds run home to the IMDB message boards as soon as they leave the theater just to spazz out on how unbelievably atrocious it is.  And I get the feeling that Director Richard Kelly doesn’t care either. The Box is meant for mainstream audiences as much as the Twilight movies are made for gore loving horror hounds.  But if you’re looking for an edge of your seat mind fuck of a thriller that slowly boils and challenges the mind, then The Box is by far one of the best movies this year.

Richard Kelly makes extremely personal films that are far from spoon fed to audiences.  He constantly raises questions that he refuses to answer, leaving it up to the audience to decide for themselves.  While critical reaction to Donnie Darko was favorable, his sophomore effort, Southland Tales, was almost universally panned.  Yet I found it to be one of the most original and entertaining movies of 2007, and will defend it to the death.  Despite what you feel about these two movies, there’s no denying that they have two things in common.  1.) With every repeat viewing, you find things that you didn’t notice before, and 2.) They stay with you long after the credits have rolled.  The Box is no exception.  I’m still playing out what happened in my mind and can’t wait to visit Kelly’s twisted take on Richard Matheson’s story again in the near future to see what I’ve missed.

Cameron Diaz and James Marsden star as suburban Virginian couple Norma and Arthur Lewis in 1976.  One morning a package shows up in front of their house, its contents consisting of a box with a giant red button on top.  Frank Langella, with some CGI heavy face deformation, shows up later in the day to explain that if they push the button they will receive one million dollars, but someone they don’t know will die.  Arthur was just informed of his rejection of a new position at work and Norma received some possibly damaging news about her sons future tuition payments.  It’s not like they both don’t have very respectable and decent paying jobs, but they yearn to live more lavish lifestyles than their income allows.  Everything going on in their lives leads Norma to hit the button…and that’s when the movie truly takes off into an addictively tense enigma.  Hell I was so involved in this movie that I completely forgot to crack jokes to my girlfriend regarding the title and a certain female orifice.

Marsden has always shined in his lighter, comedic roles, but he seamlessly slipped in the role of a desperate father and husband trying to save his family.  I’ve always been hot and cold about Cameron Diaz’s acting, but, despite some initial issues with her Virginian accent, this is her best work to date.  It’s Langella, however, who steals the movie in the menacing, yet at the same time likeable role of Arlington Steward.  In a role that could have come off as purely villainous, Langella brings a sympathetic (and relatable for the matter) view to it as a guy who is just carrying on with his life in a lousy job, just like any Average Joe.

No matter what you think about his narrative voice, there’s no way to deny that Richard Kelly is a force to be reckoned with behind the camera.  The film is a technical achievement and he really captured a Twilight Zone feeling, which seems fitting since the same story was adapted for an episode in 1986. Despite The Box’s slow burning development, Kelly keeps the pace going with new revelations and twists around every corner.  If there’s one thing you can never accuse him of it’s not being original.  The start of the story belongs to Matheson, but Kelly uses it as just a jumping off point to create his own beast.  Making it a period piece was also a smart choice, if only to make the moral dilemma the Lewis’ have more believable.  Let’s be serious, people these days wouldn’t have to think for more than a few minutes on whether or not to push that damn button.

The Box, just like Kelly’s other two films, has an amazing score that serves its purpose in not only capturing the time period, but furthering the story as well.  It almost becomes its own character and was the perfect companion to help intensify the building pressure.  Although I loved the film, there’s a couple elements that prevent The Box from hitting a higher rating.  As both of Kelly’s previous films, he walked a fine line on becoming preachy when it came to the themes of religion and fate.  I also would have liked to see him venture a little more into the science fiction aspect of the movie like he did with Donnie Darko.

The film’s biggest fault is also the reason why I love it.  It’s flippin weird, dude.  It presents such strange situations that you’re forced to turn that brain on and think, and in doing so it will completely lose the majority of viewers.  I like Richard Kelly a lot, and think it’s kind of a shame that his directing talents will just never be embraced by the mainstream because of his flat out strange, though provoking narratives.  Then again, maybe that’s why his movies are so special.  I can only hope that The Box’s box office shortcomings don’t prevent him from bringing me another bat shit crazy movie going experience in the near future.

The Box is NOT a movie for everyone, I understand that.  In fact, I’d say that most of you will find it frustrating and be bored by the fact that it takes time to build the story.  But if you’re looking for an expertly crafted, suspenseful and creepy thriller that raises more question than it has answers for with strong acting, then you might find yourself as taken by The Box as I was.

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Johnny D




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