Box, The (2009)

The BoxReviewed by Nomad

Starring Cameron Diaz, Frank Langella, James Marsden

Directed by Richard Kelly

The concept is straightforward and powerful … a theme found in great literature throughout the ages. Otherworldly forces approach mortal beings with a bargain. You may have your heart’s desire … money … fame … love … all you need to do is reach out and take it. Of course, there is a price. Someone else will pay, but like all wishes granted, it won’t be long before your consequences affect those closest to you.

When Frank Langella shows up at your door with half a face and a briefcase full of cash, you know some serious business is about to go down. Such is the situation for Norma (Diaz) and Arthur (Marsden) Lewis when a mysterious box shows up on their doorstep. Soon after, a Mr. Arlington Steward arrives to make a deal. Push the button and receive one million dollars, but someone, somewhere in the world whom you do not know, will die. The choice made by the Lewis family thrusts them into the center of an “experiment” of sorts with otherworldly participants pulling the strings at every turn. It seems the only way out may be through anguish, horror, and self-sacrifice of the gravest kind.

To speak on this film, we first need to dispel some myths perpetrated by the commercials and trailers that have, once again, painted the picture of a story somewhat different from what you will watch, should you choose to waste an afternoon (mind you, I didn’t suggest wasting an evening at all.)

The BoxNorma Lewis is a teacher, in no danger of losing her job, at a private school. Arthur Lewis works for NASA, and though he has experienced a setback in his career, it is not a backslide, so he’s also in no danger of losing his job. While the prospect of gaining a million dollars in the 70’s (or whatever similar hideous time period this movie takes place in) is always fantastic, this is not a family in danger of losing ANYTHING if they don’t have some surplus cash on hand fast. This means that pushing the button — which we know she does from the trailers — is a purely selfish act, throwing most of our sympathy for the pretty little family out of the window. When we don’t care that someone is in peril, it’s hard to feel tense when the entire movie hangs on this premise.

Next we have the chemistry between Marsden and Diaz, which is cranked up to zero. At no point did I believe this was a family, or even that they had more than a passing liking for each other. The director doesn’t do them any favors either, keeping the cameras firmly planted on their faces for every moment of forced anguish, faces twisted trying to elicit an emotion that just won’t surface.

At times this is very hard to watch and might even stir up a chuckle or two from your audience. Meanwhile, the film is doing its best to amp up the creep factor with these zombie-like drone people who bleed on themselves and move in unison like flocks of birds, seemingly on purpose. Even the sound is amplified on their every movement as they turn in their seats echoing like the ruffling of feathers in flight. This might almost be artistic if it wasn’t being done by portly town folk in vintage 70’s gear. Laughter ensues. Shudder as James Marsden is pursued feverishly (as in a fast walk which is feverish for portly townsfolk … or is that just sweaty?) by a mulleted man resembling a young, redneck Stephen King in coveralls (Creepshow style, natch) bearing an expression that can only be described as … Muppet-like. FEAR THEM!!

The BoxFailure to creep is a big deal. Granted, this is a film that never pretends to be a horror movie so we’ll let that slide. Failure to amaze with sci-fi goodness when it is revealed that THAT is the kind of movie we have been drawn into is another offense altogether.

Once we know that there is a chance of futuristic technology coming, we get ready for that WOW moment Hollywood has trained us to expect. This never comes unless you are blown away by columns of rippling water and blinding light that leads to nothing. Welcome to 1990, and The Abyss did it better. So, with this colossal failure to enthrall us with high-tech amazements, we fall back to the film’s best gimmick — the left side of Frank Langella’s face. Good job.

The Box is a very flat, one-note film with a family of sour-faced people struggling to understand a situation you won’t care about fifteen minutes in, will have grown extremely bored of after a half-hour, and still won’t understand entirely at the forty-five-minute mark! At best, this is an artsy indie film that would have played better on a smaller, more intimate scale with no name actors tearing their hearts out on the screen. Instead, we get a convoluted storyline that goes nowhere and rolls along like a “Twilight Zone” episode from the black and white days. At the very least, a “TZ” episode would have cut us loose after a half hour of this nonsense.

2 out of 5

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  • SpaceAce

    I will admit, they shoulda had the family look like they were struggling as opposed to looking fucking loaded with cash, but that could be the point I guess. The hole that greed creates cant ever be filled. MAybe Im just making excuses tho, who knows.

  • SpaceAce

    Wtf! Just watched this and I thought it was great, had an awesome retro feel to it, (not just in the setting,but in its Kubrickian vibe).
    Great soundtrack, great acting, and I found it real creepy.
    Need to watch again to grasp it fully, but yeah, good film.

  • FilmCritic3000

    WTF? Are you all crazy? I thoroughly enjoyed this. Sure, it expands on Richard Matheson’s 1970 short story “Button, Button” to a rather elaborate, labyrinthine degree but the actors all did a masterful job (Frank Langella especially), the storyline was intriguing, the cinematography was excellent, and The Arcade Fire’s score was haunting and settling one moment, somber and tragic the next.

  • Didn’t See It Coming

    Nomad disapproves? I’ll check it out this weekend.

  • frank_dracman

    Button, Button is available on Youtube. It’s free, and only 20 minutes!


    The 1980s Twilight Zone did an episode on “The Button”, and it was a very effective 20-minute piece with an unsavory leading lady. I have no idea how it could be a feature film starring Diaz.

    • DavidFullam

      Seriously, after seeing the ads I was thinking to myself “Hey, they did this in the 1980s Twilight Zone revival.” That was a very good, very moody episode. Sometimes simpler is better.

  • Rorschach

    Yeah, that was my biggest red light from the trailer, Nomad: This family talking about going broke while driving lush luxury vehicles, and living in a house that is damn near a mansion. Yeah, you’re “living paycheck to paycheck” all right, Cameron. And your accent sucks.

    Bleh. Have you read the story by Matheson, Nomad? I haven’t and am curious how it stacks up to the film.

    • Nomad

      Na. I fear I’m not very well read in those areas so I can’t compare. In one of the first scenes Marsden drives off in a corvette. You’ll moan instantly. pooooor family.

      • The Woman In Black

        To be fair, in the 70’s many families that lived in large houses and drove nice cars would have been considered middle class — upper middle at the most — so the house/car situation didn’t bother me that much. It was easy to see how they could have lived paycheck to paycheck. (That was certainly true of my family growing up.) Even though she taught at a private school, she still probably made next to nothing, and his job didn’t seem super plush either.

        No … my problems with The Box went well beyond whether or not the family “needed” the money and what kind of chemistry Diaz and Marsden had (which was more than adequate I thought, although her accent was even more distracting than Langella’s half-missing face). I went in really wanting to love it since I’m a big fan of Kelly, but after the first 30 minutes, it just became more and more of a muddled mess and I sunk lower and lower in my seat, totally disheartened. Things that were obvious were over-explained; things that needed explanation either were left wide open or just didn’t matter anyway; and the pretentious tone was at odds with the cut & dried nature of the experiment.

        Plus, why was it only the wives who pushed the button? Misogynist much? And where the hell was the fabulous music that Kelly promised was like “a character in and of itself”? Did I fall asleep and miss it? I’m not too far off from Nomad’s rating. The absolute highest I can go is 2 1/2.

        Oh, well, here’s hoping Kelly’s next project winds up faring better than The Box did.

        • Blwn2bts

          I have to say that this sounds like the exact same reaction that I had to the film. And your review score was exactly what I rated the film in my review… and I felt that I was being generous.

          Not only did the film become ridiculously convoluted after the first 45 minutes or so, but it became downright silly during the last hour. I was equal parts bored, confused, and irritated at the film. And Langella’s face was the most ridiculous effect since Battlefield Earth.

          Also, I’m surprised that not many others have mentioned the misogynist slant to the film. I brought it up in my critique as well, but you are the only other person that I have heard comment on that.

          If you get the chance, and are interested to hear my full take, the review is here: