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4 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Box, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Curious Case Of Kelly's Button"
5 stars

In 2001, writer-director Richard Kelly made one of the more auspicious debuts of the decade with the release of “Donnie Darko,” a heady blend of time travel and teen angst that failed to make much of an impact with the general public when it first came out but which quickly became an enormous cult favorite with audiences here and abroad. Unfortunately, when his follow-up project, the apocalyptic conspiracy thriller “Southland Tales,” premiered at Cannes in 2006, it was written off as a complete disaster and even though it would eventually be revealed to be a bold and wildly ambitious masterwork when it was finally released over 18 months later, the damage was already done and Kelly was in danger of being written off as yet another cinematic one-hit wonder. At a point like this, most filmmakers will generally take the first studio gig that they can get their hands on, often working from material not of their own design, and tamp down their individual quirks in order to show that they can metaphorically color within the lines and make a mass-market programmer as easily as any ordinary hack. On the surface, it appears that Kelly has done just that with “The Box,” a major-studio release with a presumably hefty budget, big-name stars and a premise (taken from a short story by Richard Matheson that was previously adapted for television as an episode of the “Twilight Zone” revival in the 1980’s) that even the dullest slackwits in the audience will be able to easily grasp. Well, appearances can sometimes be quite deceiving and that is certainly the case here because what seems on the surface to be just another hacky sellout from a once-interesting filmmaker on the commercial skids is actually one of the most genuinely freaky and fascinating films of the year and reconfirms Kelly’s position as one of the nerviest and most audacious young American directors working today.

Set in 1976, the film stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as Norma and Arthur Lewis, a nice and normal couple living in Richmond, Virginia, raising their son (Sam Oz Stone) and generally living what appears to be the American dream. As the story opens, they are awoken one morning by their doorbell and discover a package on their porch containing a box featuring a big red button and a note explaining that a Mr. Steward will arrive at the end of the day to explain what it means. Over the course of the day, both Norma and Arthur receive bad news--she discovers that the faculty tuition discount at the fancy private school where she teaches has been discontinued immediately and he, a NASA technician who helped design the cameras being used for the Viking mission to Mars, is informed that his application for the astronaut program has been rejected because he failed the psychological test. It is at this point that Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) arrives on their doorstep to greet Norma with his courtly manners, a hideously disfigured face and an extraordinary offer--if she or Arthur unlock the box and push the button within 24 hours, they will receive a cash payment of a million dollars and someone that they don’t know somewhere in the world will die. At first, Norma and Arthur are appalled by the idea but as they think about it further, the lure of the money and all the things they can do with it becomes overwhelming and Norma finally presses the button. Sure enough, Steward returns to give them their money and collect the box so that he can reprogram it and make the same offer to someone else--as he puts it, “Someone that you don’t know.”

If you have seen the trailers for “The Box” over the last few months, then you pretty much already know everything that I have mentioned about the plot up to this point. However, all of this more or less occurs within the first half-hour and as it turns out, Kelly has plenty of surprising twists and turns up his sleeve that I wouldn’t dream of revealing other than to note that those who enjoyed the trippy and paranoid plotting of his previous films will not be disappointed. Luckily, there are many other equally impressive elements that I can discuss. For example, there is the trippy mies-en-scene that he, along with regular cinematographer Steven Poster, develops along the way that is almost Kubrickian in the way that it manages to find and develop a quiet sense of menace in such seemingly ordinary settings as a wedding rehearsal dinner, an anonymous motel or the shelves of a local library. The score from members of Arcade Fire is equally fascinating in the way that it quietly creates an effectively eerie soundscape that provides another level of subtle dread to the proceedings. The performances from the leads are all strong and interesting as well, though I admit that it takes a little while to get used to Diaz’s occasionally awkward Southern accent. Most importantly, I admired the film because it is the rare genre effort that isn’t afraid to introduce wild metaphysical conceits and questionable character behaviors and actually deal with them in a serious manner instead of tossing them aside for an orgy of special effects in the final reels. In fact, the only significant flaw that I can think of is that his final resolution to the story will seem awfully familiar to his other films--while it does work here under the circumstances, it would be nice to see him tell a story that concludes in a different manner.

Although I liked “Donnie Darko” enough (the original version and not the needless and overly explanatory director’s cut that emerged a few years later) and remain a passionate defender of “Southland Tales,” I must admit that I went into “The Box” with a certain amount of trepidation that it was going to be just another failed formula film (a feeling bolstered by the fact that Warner Brothers refused to screen it for the press until the night before its opening, a move usually employed only by studios on movies that they have no faith in) and found myself pretty much blindsided by how ambitious and intriguing it turned out to be. Unfortunately, it may prove to be too ambitious and intriguing for the masses and barring some kind of miracle, I suspect that it will further marginalize Richard Kelly’s career and make it harder for him to find the financing for his unique cinematic visions. Well, if this turns out to be the case, it must be said that he has certainly gone out with guns blazing and while this may prove to be small comfort for the people who actually put money into “The Box,” those with a taste for adventurous and original filmmaking will certainly appreciate the gesture.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18064&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/06/09 05:12:56
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell boring mindbender not worth nothing 1 stars
1/14/17 Bob Dog I wish Richard Kelly would make another mindfuck movie as great as this one! 5 stars
2/25/12 Ryan Marshall A satisfying, albeit slightly ludicrous headtrip. Much better, Kelly. Much better. 4 stars
12/11/11 The Big D I can't tell you if it's suspense, sci-fi, or horor, but I can tell you I oike it! 4 stars
5/03/11 JW Specious, fatalistic downward spiral 2 stars
1/29/11 Amy It had a lot of potential, but it just didn't deliver. 2 stars
11/02/10 "No Limit" Nester One may SMILE and SMILE and be a VILLIAN! 5 stars
10/29/10 MP Bartley Bizarre, creepy, thought provoking...endless revisitations beckon. 4 stars
10/14/10 Keet Passable, but ultimately too boring 2 stars
9/16/10 Stephanie Weirdest movie ever. I kinda hated it, but I feel like I have to see it again. Santa, what? 2 stars
8/05/10 Langano Ambitious attempt falls a little short. Still better than most of the crap out there. 4 stars
7/23/10 bagwell5 Great premise with some creepy images. Sort of runs out of gas the last 1/2 hr 3 stars
7/12/10 Peter North I'd like to punch Diaz right in her box! Movie SUCKED 1 stars
12/20/09 buy lipitor 87ehrf It is pivotal to change your physician about any allergies you may have and also your medic 3 stars
11/21/09 g. awesome 5 stars
11/14/09 Man Out 6 Bucks Needs Milla Jovovich and villans. Had neither. Take a date&enjoy that instead 3 stars
11/12/09 linnie still trying to get it 2 stars
11/11/09 frederic fitch whats with all the zommbies?? 3 stars
11/07/09 2bubblie the commercial sucks you in, the movie is terrible. 2 stars
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  06-Nov-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 23-Feb-2010


  DVD: 23-Feb-2010

Directed by
  Richard Kelly

Written by
  Richard Kelly

  Cameron Diaz
  James Marsden
  Frank Langella

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