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The Box

The Box Directed by: Richard Kelly Cast: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella Running Time: 1 hr 55 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: November 6, 2009

PLOT: A financially desperate couple (Diaz, Marsden) is randomly presented with a box - inside the box is a simple red button. However, there is a catch - if they press the button, they will be awarded one million dollars. At the same time, someone in the world that they don’t know will be killed.

WHO'S IT FOR? Like the title object’s existence, The Box is a film made for the curious: those curious to see how the Donnie Darko director does with a mainstream budget, or those curious to see how the film should be placed in a list of this year’s bad-funny movies. Fans of psychological thrillers might want to take a gander, but at their own risk.

EXPECTATIONS: Imagine a trailer that has these two lines barely thirty seconds apart from each other: “Is someone pushing your buttons?” and “We have to save your son – or your wife is going to die!” Finish off the preview with the theme from the earlier Saw movies, and you have the failed first peek at what's inside The Box. I didn’t settle for cynicism just yet, but I was afraid. Certainly not in a good way.


ACTORS: Cameron Diaz as Norma Lewis: Something’s not right with Diaz in this movie. Literally. As much as she tries to work us into sharing her fear, her character seems like it would be better if she were realized by a face we connect less with movies like Charlie’s Angels, etc. But this could be an unfair statement, as some of the dialogue Norma is given would impair anyone’s performance. Score: 5

James Marsden as Arthur Lewis: Some of the X-Men actor's reactions to the weird events his character is placed in could be filed under dramatic missteps, but such odd happenings in The Box are the actual main attraction in the movie. Marsden and Diaz seem like they’re simply instruments to the story. As long as the two don't stumble through their somewhat insignificant roles, they'll be OK. Score: 5

Frank Langella as Arlington Steward: The mysterious mastermind of doom is missing half of his face, which is animated with more graphic detail than one would like to remember. Langella uses the functioning side of his head to deliver a calm performance, with a tone that is consistently reverent. The way he carries himself, particularly his voice, would make Saw villain Jigsaw proud. In a rare role where he is a cut-and-dry bad guy, Langella is fairly eerie, but not having half a face doesn’t hurt either. Score: 6

TALKING: The Virginian setting of the film requires them, but the way that the two leads handle the southern accents, one may wish they weren’t necessary. It’s difficult for some of the dialogue to be taken seriously, (“They projected the pain onto your face,” grieves Diaz), but with a southern accent it’s extra goofy. Score: 5

SIGHTS: In case you missed the title card that indicates the year is 1976, the film is dedicated to its 70's art design, including a retina-roasting orange kitchen decor in casa de Lewis. Even more striking is Langella's face, which sometimes feels like the "creepiest" element The Box has to offer. Seeing it for the first time, without the softened graphics as seen in the previews, might draw the same reaction when Two-Face's new mug was premiered two summers ago in The Dark Knight. Score: 5

SOUNDS: Keeping up with The Box’s stylistic throwback nature, the movie has a score (composed by three members of The Arcade Fire, nonetheless) that aims to reach the thrills achieved by classic film composers like Bernard Hermann (Psycho). One can certainly hear the many attempts at a fitful tribute as the movie progresses, but The Box never nears Hermann’s power until the haunting theme that plays during the credits, which goes hand in a hand by a slicing cut to black. Score: 6


BEST SCENE: Aside from a random wide shot of Steward’s eerie headquarters, the best moment in The Box has to be when Arthur makes Norma a new foot. It put me in the holiday giving spirit!

ENDING: As a friend had commented, the life of Arthur and Norma had turned into a game of “Whammy.” No whammies ... no whammies ... stop!

QUESTIONS: Why don't people use pillows to muffle gunshots? Doesn't that work?

REWATCHABILITY: Those who are not interested in a near scientific examination of bad movies will stay away. As for me, a re-view is tempting to just figure out exactly where The Box starts to tumble down the stairs of ridiculousness, and how far apart each step is from the next.


With as many horror movies as I’m sure writer/director Richard Kelly has seen, it’s astounding how backwards his eerie-meter is. His attempts at creeping on his audience generate more guffaws than gasps, something indicative of how out of tune The Box is with a modern mainstream audience’s tolerance for horror. 

Adapted from a story by Richard Matheson named “Button, Button,” the predicament that Kelly proposes is more interesting than scary. But once the couple makes their decision, the film heads on a winding path with cheesy elements like a “Human Resource Exploitation Manual,” spontaneous flash mobs of blank faced people with mullets, and fake feet. The film is arguably more tied together than his previous works, with all of the questions left at the finish line. One can attempt to find particular meaning (or symbolism) in the film’s ridiculous events, but they’ll be left with an obvious message about morality concerning a human being’s selfish nature.

At times, but only a few times, does The Box have moments that are as embarrassing as the entire experience of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. One can only hope that Kelly doesn’t try to argue The Box as a secret B-movie like Shyamalan attempted for his own disaster of a "tribute." It would be another one of his dumb ideas.


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