The Box (2009)
“You Are The Experiment”
Director: Richard Kelly
Cast: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
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.
Man, there are a lot of nosebleeds in this movie. They’re bad news, nosebleeds, not just in the real world, but in the alternative reality created by writer and director Richard Kelly for The Box. Nosebleeds mean you’re being controlled by an enigmatic force whose earthly presence appears in the form of Frank Langella (1492: Conquest of Paradise, Robot & Frank) as Arlington Steward, a man who lost half of his face when struck by lightning. Steward is an example of CGI cleverness placed centre-stage for its own sake, and although Langella is very good in the role, they should have cast a lesser-known actor, someone who we wouldn’t remember with a whole face. Steward has the habit of appearing on the doorsteps of happily married couples with kids after first having a mysterious box delivered to their homes. This box has a button which will deposit $1 million in the bank account of whoever pushes it, but will also mean the death of someone unknown to them. The couple has 24 hours to decide whether to push the button before the offer is withdrawn.
From such a simple premise, Kelly weaves a convoluted tale that, like a spun coin, eventually loses momentum and traces an ever looser pattern before expiring. The Box fights from the outset against the audience’s unavoidable suspicion that the solution to the mystery it has posed is going to be a disappointing one because, let’s face it, most movies with a terrific set-up have an unsatisfying pay-off. In fact, The Box only succeeds in defying our expectations by leaving us puzzling over a number of questions. But at least while it’s making its way to that largely inconclusive ending it keeps us intrigued. The underlying religious connotations are unmistakable (even though some choose to see a mysterious, unseen alien race behind the conundrum) with the suggestion that a God whose creations have reached the point of greater universal influence through space travel is testing the species out to see whether it possesses the moral fibre necessary to prevent it from basically screwing up his creation as it ventures farther afield.
Kelly sets himself a monumental task that many would shy away from, and it’s perhaps no surprise that he doesn’t entirely succeed. Nevertheless, he has created a movie that has no trouble holding its audience’s interest, and isn’t afraid to explore ideas and themes that place it firmly outside of the usual multiplex fare, despite featuring a leading actress in Cameron Diaz who isn’t exactly noted for taking on thought-provoking roles. She does ok, as does James Marsden, another lightweight actor who’s more likely to appear in superhero movies than a morally complex maze like The Box.
(Reviewed 22nd October 2014)