DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by Richard Kelly
Starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Sam Oz Stone, James Rebhorn
Warner Home Video
Release Date: February 23, 2010
Your home is a box. Your car is a box on wheels. You drive to work in it. You drive home in it. You sit in your home, staring into a box. It erodes your soul, while the box that is your body inevitably withers… then dies. Where upon it is placed in the ultimate box, to slowly decompose.
Place yourself in this situation for just a moment: a mysterious man with a disfigured face and friendly demeanor shows up at your doorstep. The man has but a very simple offer for you: there’s a box with a button on it; push the button once, and you will receive one million dollars in cash and tax-free. The only trade-off is that if you accept this offer, someone somewhere on the planet that you do not know will somehow die. It could be a child; it could be a serial killer.
Do you push the button?
Before even beginning The Box, I pondered this question many times over. It could perhaps be the perfect psychological question to ask, and I doubt anyone could truthfully answer it unless the choice was sitting in front of their eyes, waiting for a decision to be made. It seems to me that simply too much is on the line to make that kind of choice, but when certain people are in certain situations in life… consciences can vary greatly.
Director Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko, Southland Tales) crafted his new film based on a short story by science fiction master Richard Matheson. The Box follows Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz, James Marsden), who face the very same above scenario. One early morning in 1976, a plain, brown paper-wrapped box is left on their front step. When they open the package, a strange wooden box with a button on top is in side. A blown-glass lid is locked securely over the button and a note accompanies the item explaining that someone would be back at 5PM the next day.
As promised, Mr. Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) stands at their door, and when finally inside, he explains the deal: push the button, get $1 million, and someone they don’t know dies. Steward also tells them that they have exactly 24 hours to make the decision, and that either way, he would be back at the same time the next day to reprogram the box and present the offer to someone else.
Norma’s disabled and works as a teacher at an established private school, but is about to lose the tuition discount that allows their son Walter (Sam Oz Stone) to attend as a student. Arthur works at NASA and is respected by many, but his application to become a new astronaut is surprisingly denied. Because of this unfortunate chain of events, Arthur and Norma seem have no choice but to seriously consider pushing the button.
I will refrain from giving anything away to those who do not want to know, but let’s just say that there is more to this decision than they could have ever fathom, and that whatever choice they make will have some sort of repercussions and lead to some strange and intense situations.
Going into The Box, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew the ultimate choice being offered, but had no idea what they could add beyond that choice. To me, it felt like a 20-minute concept stretched out into a two-hour feature film, and no matter how brilliant said concept is (and it is brilliant), there was no way that they could sustain it for that long. I can now say quite happily that I was so incredibly wrong.
This button and the choice that is offered is only but a fraction of the overall scheme of things, and we soon see it all falling into place. As The Box moves forward, you can almost sense the pieces of the puzzle slowly-but-surely landing softly into their positions, and with each scene, more seems to make sense.
I had heard a lot about how confusing and complicated the movie was, and I — being someone who is majorly annoyed by lack of story finality — can honestly admit that I was expecting one of those endings that infuriated the hell out of me, left me needing more story, needing more answers, and just plain disappointed…but that wasn’t the case here at all. There are certainly plenty of question marks you will have when the film closes out, but nothing that is required to be there. When the credits rolled, I actually felt incredibly satisfied with the story that was told and how everything was sealed off.
The real selling point for me would be the way that the film was shot. Richard Kelly and his team did a phenomenal job of putting the film together and creating wonderful elements of suspense throughout the production; and many of the visuals helped to create a great old school feel to the movie. On multiple occasions, I actually found myself thinking of none other than Mr. Alfred Hitchcock, and I would be so bold as to say that if Hitchcock had been the one to make this film back in the ’50s, it would be a classic of the suspense genre to this very day.
Adding to the suspense factor, an entire new layer was added by ultra-popular musical group Arcade Fire, who recorded the film’s score. I had absolutely no idea that they had done the music while I was watching, but it was perfectly fitting to the vibe that the movie was trying to give off, and much applause goes to them as well.
As far as performances go, you’re not going to find anything award-caliber here, but that kind of works, too. Performances back in the old days were always so much more theatrical than realistic, and though the performances here are much more modern than that, they do still feel like something of a hybrid attempt at capturing that classical theatrical vibe while maintaining enough of the realism to get by. Obviously the one major exception is Frank Langella, who is amazing in everything he does, whether it be a major performance or just something small and subtle such as this.
There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of people are going to be turned off by this type of film, but the problem is that it’s impossible to distinguish who exactly it’s perfect for. Clearly if you’re a fan of suspense and Alfred Hitchcock’s work, you should find love, but I still would force this movie into the hands of all people so that they can decide for themselves what to think. I think that just like myself, a lot of people will be pleasantly surprised watching this movie.
Overall, this a wonderful example of really well-done suspense cinema. It’s been so long since I’ve seen Donnie Darko, I don’t even remember why it was such a massive cult hit; but having recently seen Southland Tales and now The Box, Richard Kelly is a director whose future projects will have my attention in-full.
Sadly, The Box has the bare minimum for special features. You do however get one very cool feature to watch. It goes to the brain behind the concept, science fiction writer Richard Matheson, who talks about how he came up with the idea and developed it, and also about some of his other works. It’s basically a legendary sci-fi author talking to you about his works. Be grateful!