US (dir. Richard Kelly)
Cast: James Marsden, Cameron Diaz, Frank Langella, James Rebhorn, Michele Durrett, Gillian Jacobs
Synopsis: A small wooden box arrives on the doorstep of a married couple, who know that opening it will grant them a million dollars and kill someone they don’t know.
Review: “The Box” is your typical Richard Kelly film (although typical isn’t the best word for it, since I can only reference his other work, “Donnie Darko”) in the sense that there’s a lot of surrealistic elements and a bizarre plot involving some unexplained supernatural event. However, unlike its predecessor, “Donnie Darko”, “The Box” suffers from a gross lack of sense in the last half hour and the story isn’t really brought full circle in the end. Not that “Donnie Darko” made any direct sense, but it at least had a good story, plausible explanations for the supernatural elements, and an ending that brought the whole film full circle. “The Box” is an example of an adaptation that really should have stuck to its source material more closely, because Kelly tacks on a 30 minute ending (which was not part of the original “The Twilight Zone” episode, “Button, Button”, on which “The Box” is based) that is laughably bad and even a little ridiculous. Despite the atrocious ending, the first three quarters of the film ain’t all that bad, however the ending is just too bad to take seriously and undermines a lot of the film’s good points.
Kelly is a director who seems to have an excellent handle on capturing the look and feel of a certain time period. In “Donnie Darko”, for instance, I felt he adequately captured the late 1980s, particularily in the music. In “The Box”, both the look and feel of the late 1970s is captured perfectly, and I’m not just talking about the clothes and the product references. The colours, the mannerisms, the set design, and everything and anything else that could have been altered to appear dated has been made to look like it was straight out of 1976. Even the way in which it was filmed feels like something produced in the 70s, a lot like how “The House of the Devil” looked like it was actually filmed in the mid 1980s.
In terms of the story line, pretty much everything goes downhill after the button on the box is pushed (push the button, get $1 million, someone you don’t know dies). From what I’ve heard, “Button, Button” ends immediately after the couple who received the box decides to push the button, thus not really necessitating some long-winded, supernatural, or even alien, explanation for the box and its keeper(s). So why does Kelly even provide the audience with the whole “after they push the button” scenario? Personally, I could have totally lived with a whole movie of just two people agonizing over pushing the button, perhaps even turning on one another as a result of a disagreeing stance on whether or not to push it. Unfortunately, Kelly thinks the audience wants to see explanations and reasons, even if they are ridiculous and more than just a bit over the top, and that’s rather unfortunate.
The strangest thing about this movie is the way the main characters react to certain situations. They don’t seem to be weirded out by floating water columns and portals of water transporting them into their beds, but as soon as someone brings a picture of Frank Langella’s character to a dinner party it’s a total OMFG!/WTF? moment. Had the characters expressed more astonishment over the peculiar events in their lives, maybe I would have understood them better, unfortunately they don’t really seem phased by much. Even their supposedly dire financial situation of living “paycheque to paycheque” isn’t taken too seriously. Marsden’s character (Arthur) just seems mildly unnerved and then ends up buying a sports car. Was downsizing, enroling their kid in public (not private) school or spending less money ever an option for Arthur and his wife Norma (Diaz)? Apparently not. There also aren’t really many scenes at all that discuss their impending financial crisis (i.e. no overdue bills piling up, no creditors harassing them or repo men taking their stuff). Had the couple been a little more destitute, the whole financial problem scenario would have been way more believable and their decision to push the button would have been a lot more agonizing for the audience to have to watch.
Otherwise, the film succeeds at one crucial point: captivating and maintaining the audience’s interest. If there’s one thing that’s for certain about “The Box” it’s that you will absolutely want to sit through Arthur and Norma’s button pushing decision dilemna. And with a whole bunch of twists and turns along the way, you’ll find yourself quite enthralled with the story. Unfortuantely, the last 30 minutes is just too ridiculous to take seriously and it absolutely does kill the movie. Such a shame too, because this movie had so much potential.
On a side note, why is Cameron Diaz in this movie and why is she taking up almost three fucking quarters of the movie poster? One, she’s not exactly an A-list actress anymore (was she ever?) and two, this movie has Frank Langella in it who is, oh I dunno, ridiculously more talented than Diaz. Get her the fuck off this poster.