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The Box
Genre Mystery
Year: 2009
 
Review:

The Box stars Cameron Diaz and while The Botox would haveĀ  been a more provocative title, the curiosity of discovering what's inside the box has been a "priceless" fascination for man, cat and baby since the beginning of time. Writer-director, Richard Kelly has only made one film since the acclaimed Donnie Darko. Unfortunately, Southland Tales didn't deliver the goods as a follow-up film and made Donnie Darko seem more like a fluke than a masterpiece. Even more disappointing is that it's still going South with The Box. Kelly has adapted a Richard Matheson short story called Button, Button into a fully-fledged film. However, fleshing out a skeleton when you've only got the Broken Heart in place is a lot more difficult than you'd expect...just ask anyone who's played Operation.

The Box is a mystery, a thriller, a drama and a work of science fiction... a similar mixture to Solaris. The characters find themselves in a surreal state of flux, which feeds into the notion that they're suspended in purgatory. Now the '70s weren't that bad, but Kelly sets the story in an era of lunar fascination some years after the first moon landing, possibly an echo of Donnie Darko's '80s fixation. The Lewis's are still seeking financial stability with Arthur (Marsden) working at NASA intent on becoming an astronaut and Norma (Diaz) facilitating as a school teacher and mom. When a mysterious stranger (Langella) arrives on their doorstep with a curious wooden box, the couple are forced to make a dramatic and life-changing decision at the press of a button.

The Box is a morality tale wrapped in layers of genre and fried in Rosemary's Baby, The X-Files, David Lynch, The Twilight Zone and Hideo Nakata horrors. Unfortunately, the film wallows in the wake of its influences instead of reaching their collective potential, making the dark atmosphere static yet never electric. The Polanski hooks are there as an ordinary married couple are put in jeopardy and try to redeem themselves at the foot of an unrelenting dark authority. It's like a deal with the devil as the Lewis family grapple with their moral dilemma.

The X-Files overlay is witnessed in the paranormal taunts of the NSA, CIA, NASA agencies and hush-hush government conspiracies. A slice of Lynch is experienced in the stilted, surreal Lost Highway moments and what can only be described as a Halloween soundtrack with a white noise backtrack reminiscent of Eraserhead. The plot feels like its been lifted from a Twilight Zone episode and the impending doom, fascination with life-like liquid and tones are in keeping with Hideo Nakata horrors such as Ringu (The Ring) and Honogurai mizu no soko kara (Dark Water). Then to top things off Cameron Diaz and the philosophical mystery echo Vanilla Sky.

The Box is like Adam & Eve in the garden of Eden as the serpent convinces Eve that their lives will be so much better for taking a bite of the apple. In this case, the Lewis couple substitute for Adam & Eve, are tempted with money instead of knowledge and strike a deal with a stranger named Arlington Steward instead of the devil incarnate. Kelly knows how to create atmosphere, however The Box doesn't seem to intensify - relying on its visual, aural climate to create tension instead of leaning on performances and drama to generate a downward spiral like Polanski did with Rosemary's Baby.

The audience is alienated without gaining access to the internal struggles of the characters and left at an arm's length for the duration of the film. The philosophical brand of science, religion and surrealism is uncertain of itself and seems a little wishy-washy behind Arthur C. Clarke's catchphrase: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". The Box slowly draws all the strands together to a fairly predictable conclusion, yet hasn't invested enough time in making us care for the characters. As such, it's an anti-climax, which should be steeped in heart-wrenching emotion, but ends like a spring-loaded Saw deathtrap.

Richard Kelly is so preoccupied with presenting The Box's style, atmosphere and thought-provoking philosophy that he leaves the audience out in the cold. His exploits don't draw the cast into the circle and the whole experience becomes sterile without ever engaging the audience beyond aesthetics. It's a real shame that such good production values and a sterling cast are put to waste, and just contrasts sharply against the involving time capsule brilliance that is Donnie Darko.

There are moments where The Box channels Vanilla Sky and then there are moments where it parallels with S. Darko - not good. You may watch The Box for its dark influences or if its basic premise appeals to you, but the experience is detached, inconsistent and a little too sluggish to be anything more than interesting.

The bottom line: Static.

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