DIR/WRI: Richard Kelly • PRO: Richard Kelly, Dan Lin, Kelly McKittrick, Sean McKittrick • DOP: Steven Poster • ED: Sam Bauer • DES: Sam Bauer • CAST: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
The Box is a bitter disappointment. From the outset, the film aims to tackle tough moral questions, and shed light on the nature of the human condition. However, by the film’s conclusion, you feel these issues have not been sufficiently explored, let alone analysed, and you are no wiser to the film’s take on morality.
Director Richard Kelly’s latest venture begins humbly enough. Depicting a struggling family in 1970’s Virginia, couple Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur (James Marsden) are confronted with an arresting moral choice. The graphically disfigured Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) presents the titular box, upon which there is a red button. Should it be pushed, the family will receive one million dollars, tax free.
And the inevitable catch? Pushing the button will directly prompt the death of another person, unknown to the couple. Of Course.
So it’s definitely unique; ridiculous yet unique. And before the first act is up, Kelly has produced an engaging moral dialogue, framed skilfully by sympathetic characters and an interesting, if superfluous, sub-plot. Sound appealing? Well, brace for disappointment, as soon all momentum for substantial moral discussion is lost and the film becomes as misshapen as Steward’s lightning-scarred face.
The Box quickly descends into a farcical array of half-cooked themes and unexplored plot points. Although the film persists in referencing its moralising roots, this is done without effort and the façade is, in turn, as mentally vacant as the Steward’s body-snatched ‘employees’.
Technically, there is plenty to admire in this movie: the star-studded cast does an admirable and thoroughly convincing job, specifically Langella who lends an air of charm, tension and, peculiar likeability to his role, despite its innate silliness. The editing and camerawork neither jar not jolt the experience. The pacing generates tension while gradually revealing the plot. Most importantly, and to the films credit, the subject of deformity is addressed sensitively and tactfully.
Sadly, these accomplishments cannot mask the blatant abandonment of moral dialogue. It’s possible that if The Box had kept its cards to its chest, the whole experience would come up aces and the surprising route it takes would intrigue rather than infuriate. Unfortunately, it lacks the courage to deliver on it promises, opting instead for a deformed, alien and downright bizarre tale.
(See biog here)