• FILM

  • SEARCH FOR

The Box

The Box

Directed by Richard Kelly. Starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Sam Oz Stone, Gillian Jacobs, James Rebhorn. (2009, PG-13, 115 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 13, 2009

Based very loosely on a short story by original Twilight Zone scribe Richard Matheson, The Box is a convoluted and capricious morality tale that cobbles together sci-fi, absent body parts, NASA, Sartre, and Cameron Diaz into a not-altogether-functional mix that is nevertheless creepy on its own terms. Or, really, Kelly's terms, which, as in his breakthrough hit Donnie Darko, are infused with surreal, dreamlike, and philosophical elements. Indeed, The Box has no shortage of interesting ideas simmering at its core. It's just that by the time the film ends, you're wondering what the point is. More than a few critics felt similarly toward Donnie Darko, although the layers of reality in that particular film reward multiple viewings. The Box seems destined to be a single-rental misfire. Diaz and Marsden are a quotidian everycouple, Norma and Arthur Lewis. It's 1976, she's a teacher, he's a NASA employee, and all is fine and right in their world until one evening they receive a visit from a mysterious stranger by the name of Arlington Steward (Langella, well-cast and sporting an eerie CG wound to his face). Steward arrives to explain the significance of the titular box, previously deposited on their doorstep. Atop the box is a big, red button beneath a glass dome. Steward presents the cash-strapped couple with a proposition: Push the button and receive $1 million, with a catch – someone, somewhere, whom they do not know, will be killed when the button is pressed. Not your everyday bicentennial conundrum, but possibly no more freakish than Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" charting at Billboard's No. 9 that same year. The button, needless to say, does not remain untouched for long, and from there on out The Box feels very much like a sprawling jigsaw puzzle that may – or may not, because with Kelly it can be hard to tell – be missing some key pieces. Diaz and Marsden turn in fine, increasingly bewildered performances, but Langella, with his black hat and blacker eyes, is one of the more memorable instigators in a suspense film (and I can't think of any other label to attach to this particular genre-defying Box) since Rod Serling exited the Night Gallery. Kelly's writerly ambition gets the most of him here – most nonfan audiences will likely leave The Box baffled – as he layers on a deep-pile, Seventies shag rug's worth of ominous subplots that, while undoubtedly weird, has neither the interlocking backstory nor the off-kilter oddness of Donnie Darko. It's a mess and it might cost him some career freedom, but at least Kelly hasn't cashed in his trademark narrative complexity for Hollywood pap.

READ MORE
More Richard Kelly
The End of the World as He Knows It
The End of the World as He Knows It
Richard Kelly does decadence plus dystopia in 'Southland Tales'

Spencer Parsons, Nov. 16, 2007

Lucid Assembly
Lucid Assembly
Richard Kelly on 'Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut'

Kimberley Jones, Aug. 27, 2004

More Richard Kelly Films
Southland Tales
Six years after Donnie Darko, filmmaker Richard Kelly returns with this incomprehensible, self-indulgent mess of post-apocalyptic anxiety, political paranoia, and pop-culture references.

Josh Rosenblatt, Nov. 16, 2007

Donnie Darko
This unnerving, electrifying film provides a unique take on the teen psyche in modern suburbia.

Kimberley Jones, Feb. 22, 2002

More by Marc Savlov
Ice Age: Collision Course
Latest entry of the series is overstuffed and meandering

July 22, 2016

Zero Days
Chilling cyber warfare doc explores the Stuxnet virus

July 22, 2016

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Box, Richard Kelly, Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Sam Oz Stone, Gillian Jacobs, James Rebhorn

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
This content has not been formatted for this window size.
Please increase the size of your browser window, or revisit this page on a mobile device.
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)