Richard Kelly made a great name for himself with Donnie Darko, but his follow up films show a great visual talent, and someone who gets easily lost in his own ideas. The Box is no exception, though it’s tighter and smarter yet less fascinating that his previous fiasco Southland Tales. James Marsden and Cameron Diaz play a married couple given a gift: a box with a button in it. Frank Langella plays the man who tells them what it’s for: if they press the button, someone they don’t know will die, and they will be given a million dollars. My review of Richard Kelly’s The Box after the jump.
Based on the Richard Matheson short story, before I saw it I had the film described to me as a film that was shortened in editing. My feeling is that it’s a half hour too long. Then again, this was a Twilight Zone episode, so there’s that problem. Norma (Diaz) and Arthur (Marsden) Lewis are two middle class people looking to get ahead. He works for NASA, and she is a teacher at a private school. Frank Langella plays Arlington Steward, who is listed as missing in the opening crawl, and comes to their house with the proposition. Norma presses the button, partly out of disbelief that anything will come of it, and is happy to take the money as they have some financial difficulties.
From there, Kelly has to build his narrative on the consequences of pressing the button, and the drama that comes from that, as their lives devolve when they come to find that her decision will have a direct effect on their lives, and not just in a moral sense. There is some good tension here, but Kelly has yet to master what Hitchcock and David Lynch understand about stillness and creepiness. This doesn’t have the same sort of creep, which could be said of his first film. He also puts a fingerprint on the film by quoting Sarte’s No Exit, and then takes it to the next level when it’s revealed who is pulling the strings.
The Box hits the third act where – depending on the viewer – either goes off the rails or reinvents itself to be interesting to multiple viewings. To spoil that is unfair, but I can say that I felt the film lost its mind, and also got confused about what sort of story it should be as the ending loses some of the interesting elements of free will. There are things to recommend about it, with the high point being the score by Win Butler, Régine Chassagne and Owen Pallett, or that is to say, much of Arcade Fire, which does not sound like Arcade Fire so much as a great stab at doing Bernard Hermann. That’s great.
And the cast is fine, with Marsden a solid lead, and fine supporting work by James Rebhorn, Celia Weston and Holmes Osborne. Diaz is saddled with an accent that doesn’t add much but she’s fine. It’s not a bad film, it’s just a six page story fleshed out to two hour length. At this point it would be interesting to see Kelly work with someone else’s material, as he’s got a great eye, but perhaps he should have a more solid bedding for his material.
Warner Brothers presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD. The film comes with a digital copy and a DVD version, and the transfer is excellent. But as this is shot on Digital video, the Blu-ray version points out the limitations of the format. Extras include a commentary by Kelly – he’s a great commentarian – and a making of (11 min.) along with an interview with Richard Matheson (5 min.). There are three visual effects featurettes (4 min.) and three music video prequels (9 min.), offering more music from Butler, Chassagne and Pallet.