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I'm not gonna lie. To say that this movie is confusing is like saying
the sun is hot but not really. And if you've seen cult director Richard
Kelly's previous films, "Donnie Darko" and "Southland Tales," you know
that's gotta mean something. When I went to see this movie, there were
about 50 people in the theater. Before an hour into the film, about
half of the audience had already walked out. By the end, there were
only 15 people left wondering what in the hell did they just see. I for
one could only comprehend roughly 40% of what I saw on- screen, and
even then it can only be called interpretation. So why did I give this
movie a generous seven stars? Because for one, we get some spectacular
performances (Marsden's great and Langella returns as a familiar creepy
character), and most importantly two, because it's entirely original
and Richard Kelly, undoubtedly one of the bravest directors alive, uses
his creative vision to tell a story that dares to be different. Quite
frankly, it's the ONLY way - only through Kelly's unique style could
this story be told the way it's intended.
In the end, if you're not willing to spend some serious thought into an intelligent movie (and even then it may all amount to nothing), stay FAR away from this one. But if you want to watch a deep, rich, complex and thought-provoking piece on spirituality, existentialism, and the predictability of human nature, go see this. Be prepared for lengthy discussions with your partner however.
*Note: If by chance you've read this review, taken my recommendation, have actually seen the movie and STILL believe you've wasted 2 hours of your life, I'd be happy to share my views on the whole meaning and plot of the film. See, that's why I liked it so much - it promotes discussion! As hard as it is though, I'll try summing it up by paraphrasing a rather depressing quote by Langella's character, who explains the significance of the simple box to an employee: "Your house is a box which you live in. The car that you drove to work is a box, on wheels. When you return home from work you sit in front of a box with moving images. You watch until the mind and soul rots and the box that is your body deteriorates, when finally you are placed into the ultimate box... to rest under the soil and earth."
I know that so many reviews on IMDb are extreme, with reviewers either praising a film to the hilt or inarticulately tearing it to pieces. I find neither of these kind of reviews helpful, and so I do not give this film the awful review I am about to, lightly. The film is art-house science-fiction of the worst kind dressed up as a Hollywood blockbuster. The trailers draw you in by showing you what appears to be a cohesive plot, but is actually just a tiny part of a wilfully baffling series of events which are never properly resolved. I like films which challenge the viewer and I do not need to be spoon-fed a plot, and so my complaint against this film is not that it is too highbrow. No - the film is just terrible. As the credits roll you will feel genuine anger at having wasted your time on Cameron Diaz's wooden acting and a faltering plot-line. Avoid.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Forget about Donnie Darko. I open with this because it seems that a
good portion of the reviews I have read on The Box amount to the simple
but weak argument that it doesn't hold a candle to Darko. It isn't that
I disagree with that necessarily, I just feel that this movie is a
different animal altogether and deserves its own analysis. There are
points of comparison to be sure, but they are peripheral concerns when
you consider that the key to the heart of each movie is different. In
Darko, the driving force of the narrative is existential. In The Box,
the driving force of the narrative stems from a moral dilemma. Believe
me when I say that I understand the inclination to compare an
innovative filmmakers'movies by looking for trends and patterns, but
for me it is more important to approach each new film as a self
contained entity first, and then broaden my gaze afterwards.
The Box is one of those films you get mixed feelings about because it seems to be in some sort of identity crisis. It isn't always sure what it wants to be. The twists are numerous, but easy to follow if not to predict. James Marsden and Cameron Diaz play a relatively believable pair of newlyweds who are in financial straits. A Box containing a "button unit" arrives on their doorstep and they are informed by a horribly burned man that if pushed the button will cause the death of one person whom they don't know, and they will receive one million dollars. One of the things The Box achieves is to conjure up this invisible fear that somewhere out there our actions have moral consequences. Before the button is pushed it has an eerie and seductive quality, alluring yet sinister. Once it has been pushed, events are set in motion that make the two leads question their own morality and deeply regret their fateful decision.
The notion that the Box is an experiment is interesting because for me it provides the movie with a paradox. If there are external beings developing an "altruism coefficient" based on data gathered by couples pushing and not pushing the button, then as the conspiracy unravels, we notice that ultimately it is a forced altruism: Be selfless or the species will be wiped out. I suppose the couples don't know the consequences of their actions when they are faced with making the decision, but they have no reason to suspect that The Box can do anything, so why would they choose altruistically? Is altruism devalued by the fact that we only care about it when presented with a problem in our own lives?
The psychological hurdles in this movie are everywhere. Push the button or don't, it's likely someone is messing with you. Take the money or don't, no one gives anything away for free. Search for the truth, the answers you find slowly reveal your demise.
I propose that The Box is an ironic work because it offers the false choice of free will while revealing that we are trapped in many metaphorical boxes. You can only choose to be free at the expense of another's life, is that freedom? No, it is only another box because then you become trapped in the consequences of your own morality. There is no escape for us because we live on earth and that is another Box. This is precisely why the external beings in the film are ultimately antagonists. They demand we conform to moral standards which rob us of our freedom. We made it to Mars, and we were burned for it and turned into slaves in a sick game.
The references to Jean Paul Sartre illustrate this point rather well. "You can only enter the final chamber free, or not free." Sure, but no matter the form in which we enter the chamber, it is a chamber nonetheless.
Richard Kelly's latest supernatural thriller "The Box" is creepy, strange and overall sinister, yet not very coherent or focused. One's opinion on the movie depends on whether one accepts its peculiar concept or not. I must say that I was initially enthralled by the movie's strange old-fashioned tone resembling sci-fi movies from the 1970s Kelly pays homage to. The movie handles its mystery rather well with Frank Langella's uniquely scary performance being the obvious highlight. Given that, the movie falters at the end when its otherwise intriguing concept gets bogged down by the series of ridiculous events that feel as if they were taken from a different movie. While The Box tends to approach the wrong territory and is rather unfocused, one can't help but acknowledge Kelly's ability to attract the viewer's attention. His obsessions may not be shared by very many people, but he manifests them in a richly textured manner. That's just enough to enjoy this movie despite its shortcomings. 6.5/10 (B-)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 1976 a mother named Norma Lewis (Cameron Diaz) lives with her son
Walter and her husband Arthur (James Marsden). One night a box is
placed on the doorstep of their home and the following morning they cut
open the box to reveal a button device that must be opened with a key.
By the late afternoon, a man with terrible scarring on his face comes
to their door and presents Norma with an offer. This man is Arlington
Steward (Frank Langella) and he announces that if they push the button
someone in the world that the family does not know will die and they
will receive a million dollars in cash. If they don't press it, nothing
will happen and the offer will move on to someone else. Norma and
Arthur are not allowed to tell anyone including their son about this
deal. The incentive for the family to push the button is heightened by
their financial difficulties. Arthur, who is currently working for
NASA, fails to be accepted into a new job he applies for and Norma, who
is a teacher, learns that her faculty funding is being cut.
One's enjoyment for this bizarre sci-fi thriller, based on the short story "Button Button" by Richard Matheson, will be determined by how far they are willing to take this ludicrous premise. The opening of the film is particularly problematic in grounding itself in a sense of realism with the household. Richard Kelly's previous film Donnie Darko cleverly used the condition of schizophrenia to justify its excursion into paranormal activity and parallel universes. Without the dream-like state of that far superior film, The Box and the very thought of a device that can kill anyone in the world, is entirely implausible. That Norma would also accept someone into her house that has almost the same scarring as Two-Face from The Dark Knight and believe this offer, seems equally contrived.
If this sounds unlikely so far, what follows is even more absurd, involving a conspiracy about someone who was struck by lightning, the possibility of alien life or some other Godly being influencing these situations. Scenes involving gateways opening up in public libraries, random nose bleeds and mindless drones stalking the Lewis family, become almost unintentionally comical in their absurdity. To a point, the film could be called intriguing purely to see where it is going. Kelly is occasionally clever in his ability to hold our attention through many of the films contrivances. In one scene Norma is teaching a class and then is asked by a strange boy about her foot. He taunts her about it as she is missing four of her toes. Later, at a rehearsal dinner for a wedding that Norma and Arthur are attending, this same student appears as a waiter and seems to be stalking them. Yet the eventual justification for these all of these oddities is wrapped up in a highly contrived sci-fi revelation that many will find implausible and difficult to swallow.
What is most disappointing about the film is that once the button is pressed surprisingly early on, many of the moral implications that were initially promised are diminished for much of pictures duration. The ending, which won't be spoilt here, resurfaces these moral questions again in the hope of echoing that of a Greek tragedy. While the resemblances can be seen, by this point, given the unlikelihood of so much of the film and the uneven performances, there is little reason to care. Cameron Diaz's Southern accent might be unnecessary but it is surprisingly Langella who is the most disappointing in the film, with a very unsubtly written role, as the mysterious scarred man, who seems to be hiding a military base that would make Dr. Evil proud. It really is just a shadow of his towering performance in Frost/Nixon. There is not a lot for many of the other actors in the film to do; in particular both Norma and Arthur could not be regarded as characters but mouthpieces for Kelly's pastiche of ideas. Underdeveloped and brief conversations, such as where Norma sympathises with Arlington over their deformities and also when Norma and Arthur question whether they really know each other in case the button kills either of them, highlights this.
Since 2001, Richard Kelly has failed to make a film that has lived up to the quality and the imagination of Donnie Darko. Though this film might be intriguing for a little while, it is too absurd and implausible to be fully enjoyed and it would certainly not warrant multiple viewings given the film's rather illogical revelations. Science fiction fans might be able to appreciate it somewhat more and draw their own conclusions, but what Kelly is really trying to say beneath the surface remains cryptic. The Box is one film this year that should have been shelved.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Be warned, the next time you see "Richard Kelly" involved in any
production, run away. Fast.
Kelly proved to the world after his last movie, "Southland Tales", that he is one pretentious director. It was indulgent and convoluted. In "The Box", not much has changed.
I can picture what his pitch to Warner Bros must have been, and I bet the executives at the studio ate it right up: a full-feature film based on one of Richard "Twilight Zone" Matheson's old short stories.
Big mistake! Do not read any further unless you want this movie COMPLETELY spoiled for you:
Norma (Cameron Diaz) pushes the button.
Turns out that Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) has an Alien using his body as a vessel to conduct "experiments" in which the fate of mankind rests. His face is scarred because he was struck by Alien lightening, which killed him, but then brought him back to life to do all of this red button testing. Obviously since Norma pushes the button, knowing full well that someone may die, she must suffer the consequences for failing to consider someone else's life instead of her own. In the end she and her husband (James Marsden) choose to kill Norma instead of having their son grow up deaf and blind.
Kelly dances around his film's "message", trying to make the audience figure out what the moral of the story is. Obviously, any person with a brain is saying at the beginning, "What if I was the person who dies?". Richard Kelly doesn't even let his character's have this normal, HUMAN conversation. In fact, they avoid it all together. They appear to both be educated, working at a prestigious school and also for NASA, so why wouldn't they both have a better ability to LOOK OUTSIDE OF THE BOX???
If he had the main characters actually have this conversation, the entire movie could have ended right there! Instead, we have to watch weddings go on forever, NASA and the NSA be complacent to Arlington Stewart taking over these government programs, teleportation to show Marsden life beyond our world so it will be "easier" to kill his wife, and drone's controlled by Steward which can be anywhere and nowhere, at any time.
The most painful part of this movie is the pacing. Nothing really happens. Its a muddled mish-mash of ideas that are laughable.
It is insufferable how this film is being marketed. The commercials make it look like "Saw" and even use the music from those films to sell it. In reality what you get is a slow, dull, laughable (yes, half the theater was laughing at the acting and visual effects), and messy film which is neither imaginative, interesting, nor cohesive. At one point, Cameron Diaz and her son are abducted and then suddenly, she is back in the NSA's big black car with her husband on the way home. Where did she go? Why did they take her? Do we really care? Not anymore you won't.
By the end you really won't care what happens to any of the characters. You will be rooting for all of them to die so the film will just end. Go see anything else that's playing. Don't waste your time, or money.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'd honestly give this movie a solid 7.5, but I clicked 10 to try to
offset the 5 pages of imbecilic, unjustified 1-star reviews. This is an
interesting story, all of the acting is good to very good (even Ms.
Diaz, who is totally out of her usual grinning-bimbo role here, yet
plays it well.) The sets are perfect and the cinematography is
consistently appropriately creepy. It's a fine morality play and there
is *no* reason to explain the origin of the god/supernatural
being/alien/whatever that's "running the show," so I'm glad the movie
doesn't try. It's really irrelevant to the story, which is relatively
long but quite compelling and summed up quite satisfyingly in the
Before you decide this movie is terrible (or really, anything under a ~7.5) read some of the dozens of 1-star "hated it" reviews that are rife with misspellings, lack of punctuation and capitalization, and juvenile criticisms. Maybe the trailer was misleading or something -- I didn't see it -- but some of these reviewers were apparently expecting Terminator 4 or Saw 5 (one reviewer actually compared this movie to Saw! How utterly inappropriate and unrelated!)
Seriously, most of these reviews read like you-tube comments -- according to these "critics" this movie is too confusing yet too predictable, not enough action yet there's too much going on, too smart yet too dumb, explains too much yet leaves too much unexplained... oh -- and it's apparently a "waist (sic) of time." Do consider the quality and source of the reviews before taking them to heart. I'm afraid these 1-star kids failed to understand the phrase "altruism coefficient" and were therefore utterly incapable of understanding the movie's premise (despite adamantly claiming that they "get it" right before explaining how confusing it was!) If you know what those two words mean you will have no trouble understanding (and enjoying) this movie.
I really wish there were a reviewer reputation system here so I could be sure to ignore the rating of everyone who gave this movie 1 star forever.
See it for yourself and enjoy the fine presentation of an interesting couple taking an interesting moral "test" and facing the consequences. It's a good time, in my opinion.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie starts off with a couple waken up by the doorbell early in
the morning. The woman Norma Lewis ( Cameron Diaz ) opens the door just
to find out no one's at the door. But there is a mysterious box on the
doorstep, and Norma brings it in. In the meanwhile Arhur Lewis ( James
Marsden ) joins her at the diner table and together they unfold the
wrapping paper to find a box with a big red button on top of it. On the
box is a keyhole which needs a key to open up the top so you can press
the button. They have no idea what it is or what it means but that will
Later that day a mysterious creepy man is at the door, Norma opens the door and the man presents himself as Arlington Steward ( Frank Langella ). He is creepy in the sense that he has a big open burn mark on his face in the trend of Harvey Dent ( 2-face ) as seen in the Dark Knight. He will ask Norma if she received the box and will explain what it is. Mr. Steward gives Norma a key to open the box, and she can keep the key with the box for 24 hours, in that time she will have to make a special choice. If she will push the button, Steward will give the family a staggering 1 million dollars in cash BUT someone, somewhere in the world will die. To gain her trust Stewerd gives Norma a 100 dollar bill and leaves.
So far so good, the first 30 minutes of this movie are good and interesting, and you will wonder what will happen if they press the button. The story has a great concept and is very promising.
Unfortunately the movie collapse under it's own weight of complexity in the remaining 75 minutes or so. It's not because of bad acting, although Diaz is terrible, Marsden plays OK but not memorable and besides, Langella sticks out with head and shoulders. It's not bad directing either. I loved Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko so we're not dealing with a beginner. The Cinematography and camera-work is good and the atmosphere in the entire movie is really well done. It's just that the plot is turning out to be way to smart, but yet it feels dumb and clumsy. At moments the movie is very predictable, and sometimes you are scratching you'r head about what the hell just happened. You keep on watching because you'll expect that the movie will fall on it's place near the end. Unfortunately this is not happening and the movie ends with questions unanswered. Kelly is probably trying to create something that people will talk about after the movie and on birthdays. But to be honest I didn't care about the characters and the story no more, the last 20 minutes took forever and I remember asking my girlfriend if they could please get it over with.
This movie is comparable to flavored chewing gum. It starts off with an explosion of flavor but as you keep on chewing the flavor is starting to go away and you end up with a dull tasteless piece of rubber in your mouth.
After I heard how terrible this film was, I really wasn't expecting
much. I almost didn't even rent it, but I am glad I did. I love Donnie
Darko and I think with The Box, Kelly has gone back to the Darko style
of writing and directing. I am not sure why it received so many bad
reviews, maybe because like Donnie Darko it was too cerebral for the
mainstream. It's not a movie you can do three things and watch, you
have to pay attention to the little details. I do feel there are
missing pieces that weren't explained, but that could be the way the
film was edited and may come out later in a directors cut edition, or
it could be Kelly's way of keeping the audience guessing. I can see how
this movie wouldn't appeal to the masses, especially since it is a
cautionary tale of morals and ethics, but if you liked Donnie Darko,
you will probably enjoy The Box. I can see this having a cult following
like Donnie Darko.
Also I am not a Cameron Diaz fan, but I think she did a great job. I had heard awful things about her performance in this, but in my opinion this was one of her better roles.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Before you dismiss my post as "not getting it", let me say...I'm one of
the biggest Richard Kelly and "The Twilight Zone" fans out there.
Donnie Darko is one my all-time favorites and I even thought Southland
Tales had it's moments. I'm a HUGE sci-fi fan. I was very excited to
see "The Box", couldn't wait for it to come out.
Having said that..."The Box" is terrible. Behind "Drag Me To Hell", this was the worst movie I've seen in 2009. And it just simply WILL NOT end! Whenever you think you've reached the end, another change in the plot and you're off to more torture. I was actually groaning in the theater by the end of the film...I could hardly take it anymore.
The biggest problem with "The Box", no matter how you slice it or try to justify it, is that it simply makes little sense. Trust me, I "got it", I understood what was going on. But that doesn't mean it makes a lot of sense looking back on it. Take the basics for example. The main couple...Cameron Diaz and James Marsden, playing Norma and Arthur Lewis. Diaz loses her finances at her job, then bemoans that they are "living paycheck to paycheck". Well, sell that f-ing Porsche your husband is driving then!!! They live in a beautiful 2-story house in a nice subdivision. Marsden is working what seems to be a high-paid job at NASA and Diaz is an accomplished teacher. And, yes, Marsden drives an overly expensive car. But they are somehow living paycheck to paycheck?!? No need to press the button, just cut down your high-priced lifestyle a bit! The movie would have worked better if they showed the couple jobless and in serious debt. Instead, they are seemingly desperate for money...all the while living what I would call a luxurious lifestyle. Like I said...you can understand what's going on, yet it still makes little sense! That's a rare combination.
There was an awful scene in a library that I feel will go down as one of the worst segments in movie history (terribly acted too by the way). It was idiotic, illogical and out of place. I can't even begin to fully describe it actually, so I will move onto a subplot that involves nose-bleeds and body possession by aliens. (Yes, I'm being serious unfortunately). A kid is in Diaz's class with a wicked and smile on his face (a sinister smile that seemingly goes by completely unnoticed by everyone in authority at the school). He starts asking Diaz personal questions, literally embarrassing her in front of her class. No punishment is given to the kid whatsoever...he didn't even get asked to stay after class for a talk! Then Diaz is at a party...and the same kid is one of the hired help...ironed shirt, apron and all! I don't know many alien-possessed kids (who appear to be in Junior High) that also moonlight as a bus-boy at parties sponsored by teachers and school officials...but we found one here! (See what I mean...you can understand it completely, but it still makes no sense...a rare combo!) Like many things in the movie, the kid comes and goes...no real explanation about him, no ending to his character. Moving on... A lady then approaches Diaz in a grocery store, telling her that experiments are being ran secretly and her family is one of the test subjects. Well...hmmm...if aliens possess the powers where they can take over a body remotely...and the aliens don't want to help Diaz...then who was taking over this lady's body and giving Diaz advice?! Again...The lady was trying to help Diaz...and the aliens weren't interested in helping Diaz...so who the hell was controlling her body?! Never explained. Never talked about again. No nothing!! It goes on and on and on like this for, what seemed to me like, 2 weeks. It would not end! I wonder if this movie underwent a massive re-shoot at some point. It was poorly edited. Diaz's accent was there one minute, gone the next. Sub-plots began but never ended. The numerous push-backs of the release date obviously shows the problems the producers had with the finished product. It's truly a train-wreck.
Pass on this one...there's no redeeming value in it whatsoever. 3 out of 10, just because I like Diaz and sci-fi! But it probably deserves a 1 out of 10.
Thanks for reading!
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