Box, The (2009)
Reviewed 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.)
Norma 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!!
Failure 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
Would you push the button? See the film and decide!
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