Immediately remove Southland Tales from your brain, its history as Richard Kelly has retuned to his Donnie Darko roots with The Box, his adaptation of Richard Matheson’s short “Button, Button.”
Fans of Donnie Darko or “The Twilight Zone” shouldn’t hesitate for a second at taking in this psychological mind-f*ck, while those of you looking for a fast-paced action-filled thriller should instead go see The Fourth Kind. It’s no surprise that Warner Bros. isn’t putting their “all” behind this release; this is a tricky film to put in theaters.
Richard Kelly’s adaptation follows Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (James Marsden) as a couple living paycheck to paycheck. Everything is finally looking up as they have a healthy, happy kid, a solid relationship and Arthur is looking to head into space to live out a life long dream. And then it happens. The doorbell rings, outside a wrapped box sits with a car zooming off into the sunrise. Inside is the infamous button box, with a note, “Mr. Steward will return at 5pm” (or something along those lines). While Arthur works, he explains the situation, receive $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. They have 24 hours to make their decision.
This is where Kelly’s script gets interesting and the audience is transported to “The Twilight Zone.” Arthur is denied a chance to head to space, while Norma is disgraced by a student (she has a foot deformity) and also is fired from her job. Their world is turned upside down. Everything is going wrong and they are now down and out. This is an interesting turn of events as it adds an incredible weight to the decision on whether or not to push the button. The oddity is that everyone who crosses their path and changes their destiny has a nose bleed. What’s going on?
The Box is a tale of denial, reflection and ultimately redemption. To talk any further about the plot would ruin the turn of events that follow the Lewis’ decision to press the button. Much like Darko, many of the film’s flaws are within the screenplay as it’s so deep and so top heavy that the plotholes are impossible to avoid. There are too many coincidences that hope the viewer is forgiving. When the movie was over, the conversations were heated, which is a great thing is this writer’s opinion. To enjoy The Box, one must take it for what it’s worth and go along for the ride. Don’t ask questions and don’t try and put two and two together; just accept it for what it is.
While it’s impossible to pull all the strings perfectly through the one hole, Kelly does an admirable job of really, really trying to make the film believable. The best decision made was to make The Box a period piece, a daunting task as it is. A situation like this presented to someone in 2009 would come off highly unbelievable and completely laughable. Taking this back to the 70’s immediately adds a strong level of belief to the film. Kelly shoots it in a bleak and completely authentic way that will keep his audience on the edge of their seat from start to finish. The cinematography is stunning and the score hits classic Hitchcockian tones that’ll give you chills.
The Box is a dreary and engaging brain trip into the world of Richard Kelly. This is where he’s comfortable, this is where he succeeds and this is where he triumphs. For those of you looking for an unsettling and unnerving theatrical experience, The Box is sure to deliver in more ways than you can imagine. Expect a night of conversation, along with hours of lost sleep while you stare at the ceiling to follow.