The Box is the latest movie by mindfuck director Richard Kelly. You probably know him from Donnie Darko, which has become a cult classic, and Southland Tales which has been put down by the general audience and critics for being a total disaster. The Box is a continuation of his style of movie making which starts off with an interesting setup, but eventually loses itself in (alien?) conspiracies, the afterlife and more.
Norma (Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (Marsden) are a happily married couple living in the 70s. She teaches at a school, he works for NASA and has been applying for a job as an astronaut. The day they receive a package containing a box with a button and a note, they also both hear that they will come upon financial worries as his application is denied and she will no longer be getting a discount for tuition. At home the mysterious stranger who left the box earlier that day comes by and explains the rules to Norma. Push the button and they will receive $ 1,000,000.- tax-free in crispy clean bills. The flip-side of the coin is that somebody they don’t know will die. If they don’t push the button within 24 hours, he will come back, take the box and make the offer to somebody else.
Since you would not have a movie without pressing the button, it is pretty obvious what the couple does. Though it was after long discussions and even then in a moment of impulse. They receive the million dollars, but also the notification that now somebody else will still get the offer, somebody they don’t know implying, well you can probably guess that.
From here the movie goes from a (government) conspiracy, to a movie dealing with possible alien life, and cubes of water that temporarily take you to the after life. You have to appreciate Kelly’s style to let yourself be sucked into this and my guess is only few people will. Anyone familiar with his past work knows you will never get all the answers to the questions this movie without a doubt raises. Whether you can appreciate it when a movie does this is an important factor on how much you will enjoy this movie. I’m a bit divided. It’s really ambitious to go from a simple movie about a moral dilemma to something involves possible alien life forms and the after life. I could have done with just a conspiracy thriller element to the moral dilemma. It is just that all the mysteriousness concerning a wind tunnel and a special pool at a motel didn’t do much for me. Unlike Lost or Twin Peaks the mysteries presented and questions raised were not all that interesting to me.
The first hour of the Box is pretty good, but as soon as the button is pushed and the chain of mysterious events is set in motion I lost my interest. The only thing actually saving the second half is the character of Arlington Steward played by veteran Frank Langella. He’s starting to develop a really great screen presence with his deep voice and cool stare which I first witnessed with Frost/Nixon. Like Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Lee and Ian McKellen he’s creating a new career in his senior days for himself this way.
I’m wondering if Richard Kelly has a career in front of him, because I’m not quite sure his kind of movies are welcomed by a large enough audience. Aliens and the after life in a movie about a moral dilemma; some boxes are better left unopened.