Norma and Arthur Lewis, a suburban couple with a young child, receive a simple wooden box as a gift, which bears fatal and irrevocable consequences. A mysterious stranger delivers the message that the box promises to bestow upon its owner $1 million with the press of a button. However, pressing this button will simultaneously cause the death of another human being somewhere in the world, someone they don't know. With just 24 hours to have the box in their possession, Norma and Arthur find themselves in the cross-hairs of a startling moral dilemma and must face the true nature of their humanity.Written by
Warner Bros. Pictures
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Over-ambitious "Box" leaves too many elements to consider
As a fan of science fiction allegory, social experiment, "The Twilight Zone" and the thriller genre -- no less all those elements combined -- Richard Kelly and his film "The Box" should've at least won me over, but it doesn't. It can't even decide if it wants to remain completely mysterious or explicitly tell us what's going on and any film that has to contemplate that is too complex for its own good.
With any story this daring, there's potential for something meaningful. "The Box" does let you glimpse it and draw a few interesting conclusions, but through intellectual jail bars placed before our eyes by the myriad of plot contrivances. In other words, too many plot elements exist in in the film that keep us from ever putting our mind around what Kelly is trying to say. Although he starts simply by focusing on a couple (James Marsden and Cameron Diaz) and their child making an ethical decision, the scope widens to include everything from Arthur C. Clarke references to mindless drones to some indiscernible notion of the afterlife.
This beginning piece is based on Richard Matheson's story "Button, Button," which was a short story turned into a "Twilight Zone" episode. In "The Box," a mysterious man with a half-burned face played by Frank Langella drops off a box with a button in it at the doorstep of Norma and Arthur Lewis and their son Walter. He later comes back and gives Norma a proposition: don't press the button and nothing happens, or press the button and receive one million dollars and subsequently someone, anywhere in the world, whom they don't know will die.
Well, Norma, a teacher, just lost her teacher tuition discount for her son and Arthur's application to be an astronaut was just denied and despite living in a nice looking house in Richmond, Virginia they apparently have no money, so it's not hard to figure out ultimately what they'll do. After all, don't press the button and there's no film -- not that some people who sit through this would've minded that in retrospect.
As with his cult hit "Donnie Darko," Kelly keeps "The Box" fascinatingly creepy. It starts with the colors, the classic string soundtrack from the band Arcade Fire and some peculiar Easter eggs and moves on to more jarring occurrences. There is never a point where things get so absurd that you don't care what happens in the end, even if there's a chance the end could be terribly unsatisfying. It's one of few saving graces for "The Box," but perhaps even this is only for those intrigued by high concept sci-fi mystery that parallels human nature no matter how vague.
When any thriller collapses somewhere after the midway point, you can usually blame the fact that too many occurrences in need of explaining were written in order for the writer to achieve his desired end. When James Marsden gets hit in a car by a truck and comes out of a giant light warehouse and that ultimately never gets explained, its degrading to the viewer.
The real trouble with "The Box" is how ambitiously it tries to combine the ideas of intelligent life/space exploration with religious notions of life, death and what might come after as well as numerous other elements too many and too difficult to explain. Kelly found that balance between time travel and inter-relationship drama in "Donnie Darko" but "The Box" implodes on itself by severing its little social experiment from the characters with too much unexplained phenomena.
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