The year is 1976. A couple (Marsden and Diaz) with financial woes get a nutty offer by some deformed duder (Langella) who shows up at their doorsteps with a freaking box. Deal is: press the red button on the box and somebody they don’t know, somewhere in the world will RIP. The upside is that they get a million clams for their button pressing troubles. The catch? Just like anything else in life there is one… a BIG one!
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I worship RICHARD KELLY as an artist. His ambition and braveness when it comes to his films is something that I admire. Even when he miss-steps (SOUTHLAND TALES – hated that damn movie), the man still gets my respect for at least TRYING to do something diverse. So it was with mucho anticipation that I got my hung-over ass to a THE BOX screening on Saturday morning. Before I get into it, I gotta say I am pissed at how this film’s marketing was handled. There were no test screenings for critics and the TV, Ads and Net exposure was pathetic to say the least. Why a Studio would give a dude 30 mil to do a movie and then NOT push it is beyond me. Much like a one legged strippers, Hollywood works its pole in mysterious way.
THE BOX was based on a short story by famed writer Richard Matheson which was published in Playboy in 1970 (I guess that’s why the film was set in 1976, nice move Kelly). It was also inspired by the TV adaptation of that same tale called "Button, Button". The latter was showcased in the first season of the The Twilight Zone TV show (1985-1986). Kelly’s take on it kept to Button, Button at first; putting out a harsh moral question to its two leads and by default us, the audience. Yup my hamster in the wheel started sprinting right there: would I push the button and cash in? More on that later. Once that query semi out of the way, the flick went its own, f*cked up way. The question was just the beginning and the more the affair clocked forward, further questions popped up and the more complex the answers became. Yup, I was bamboozled by this one's potent mystery and loving every micro second of it!
Usually, I write a review right after I see a film, because the experience is fresh in my noggin. With this one though, I took a day to digest before vomiting the drivel you are reading now. Why? Cause much like DONNIE DARKO, there was more than meets the eye with THE BOX. The flick had all ALL KINDS of things going on thematically and within its story. And it wasn’t all laid out or neatly tied together for me either. Like… AT ALL! The flick challenged me to think and to piece its intricate, sci fi laced puzzle together. Much like with Kelly’s DONNIE DARKO, the approach reminded me of the master of mind-raping David Lynch. The picture shoveled enough hints my way to keep me in its grasp, but figuring out the full HOW as to the happenings. that was up to me. Good shit!
The casting of the film was just as novel as the film itself. At first glance having James Marsden and Cameron Diaz as a couple would seem like an off target choice. And having them be a couple from the 70’s? Wha???? But somehow it worked! Both actors were very likable, they shared enough chemistry for me to buy them as love birds and had strong, emotionally charged moments together. The loving looks they exchanged during the dance scene for example hit me “right here” (points at dead great). Diaz maybe missed the mark a couple of times with her performance and I couldn’t tell ya if her Virginia accent was credible or not but on whole she rocked it. In fact, I raise my glass to Marsden and Diaz, two performers who had to overcome their good "model like" looks over the years to be taken seriously as actors – and in my opinion they pulled it off. The cherry on to of this top-notch casting Sunday was without a doubt Frank Langella as the creepy yet endearing Arlington Steward. The man sold me on the character, hence upping the credibility of the situation and every time he was onscreen there was some kind of magic going on.
Visually, Kelly echoed Kubrick in his classy, matter of fact yet mucho oppressive/surrealistic approach and needless to say that’s a compliment. The 70’s setting hit home as well. I don’t think the whole thing would have worked as well if set in present times. Loved them 70’s wallpapers man! Gnarly! Gotta get some! Then we had the existential streak going on which rubbed me the right way. I adored the answer to the question “why a box”, kind of put shit in perspective. And if you look close enough you may catch the biting parallels to Christianity (the more obvious being Adam and Eve) and man’s relationship with the big man (or is it big aliens) upstairs. Groovy! Tag to all that a powerful Bernard Herrmann-esque score by Arcade Fire, a handful of bizarre yet striking set pieces (the box made of water – nough said) and a visceral ending that pummeled my soul into Apple Sauce and you get an odd yet satisfying film going experience.
Now, that’s not say that all was dandy in THE BOX land. The flick lacked suspense and man if there was one tale that should have evoked tension it was this one. I attribute that to an awkward execution, intentional or not. For example there was a scene where one of the leads was followed around by these mind controlled buffoons. But the drones looked so funny in appearance (one guy was a dead ringer of a Hick version of Stephen King…lol) that I couldn’t take the bit seriously. This movie SHOULD HAVE BEEN scary. It wasn't. The character’s reaction (or lack of) to some of the outlandish events also grated me. Hey, if I see my better half floating above my bed in a box made of water, my jaw drops and I’m speed dialing my mommy. Not here. They didn’t even blink. Overall though THE BOX started my day on the right stab! I was taken on quite the ride and left the theater affected and intellectually stimulated. It’s not a film for everybody; it’s slowly paced and it plays by its own rules but if you dig on celluloid treats that think outside the box, this one may be for you.
Apart from some light blood and Frank Langella’s seriously mangled up face – nada. The flick is mystery driven – red grub is not on its menu. All good.
Does a foot with cut off toes turn ya on? Cause that’s all we get from Miss Diaz. The things I’d do to that stump though…hmmm…..
I would have loved a second viewing of THE BOX before writing this shit up, it’s just that kind of movie but alas, I don’t have the time. This puppy may be the most exigent flick of the year! It had me working it in overtime! Much like everything else Kelly has done, I am assuming that it will be another love it or hate it affair. For me, the film had me with its initial premise, its sympathetic couple and its deep thoughts question. Then it kept me there by getting weirder and weirder, hence challenging me while tossing all kinds of sci fi and quasi religious elements my way. Yeah some things didn’t pan out and the lack of tension really hurt this one taking into account the story at hand but on the whole THE BOX was a breath of dead air! A flick with countless layers and that wasn’t afraid to be what it is. And to answer the question: would I press the button on the box? Nope! I don't want to whack anybody and I’ve been through enough in life and have seen enough horror movies to know that if it looks like easy come – ITS ISN'T!
Richard Kelly was born in Virginia; maybe that’s why THE BOX was set there.
Basil Hoffman who played Arthur in the Twilight Zone episode Button, Button has a small role in The Box.
Richard Kelly pitched The Box to rock band Arcadia Fire with the script and the score for Vertigo.
Button, Button was directed by Peter Medak (The Changeling, Romeo is Bleeding Species 2).
GET TRAPPED IN THE BOX OFFICIAL SITE HERE