This thriller cements Richard Kelly, once and for all, as a master of the Twilight Zone-like plot twist. Those who have seen the now-classic Donnie Darko know that this director came on the scene with a bang, spreading his vision to the masses. The massive rise of the film to popularity may well be the cause of certain aspects of The Box. While the plot is originally adapted from the short story “Button, Button” by Richard Matheson, the second half is all-original, and seems to fit in quite well with the mythos established in Donnie Darko – including the presence of water-based special effects, portals, and even certain artwork that astute fans will spot.
Do not be fooled, however. While it is certainly true that there are elements of the director’s previous opus in this film, it is much more in the vein of simpler, more classical horror/suspense movies. It appears to take a page, at times, out of the Body Snatchers franchise, and is much more of a large-scale, sweeping epic sort of a conspiracy movie than the personal, teen angst fueled Donnie Darko. Combined with a heavily moralistic tone of parts (the characters are apparently being tested to determine the worth of humanity), the movie walks a fine line in ultimately bridging diverse sources. This comes off rather well, even if it is confusing at times – unnecessarily so, the movie occasionally setting up plot-lines that it later seems to drop entirely
The basic premise is that a happy, yet financially troubled family (Cameron Diaz and Hames Mardsen, and Sam Oz Stone) receives an offer that is almost too sweet to refuse. A box with an attached button is delivered to their doorstep, and a charming yet terribly disfigured man played by Frank Langella tells them that if they choose to press the button, someone in the world, whom, they are assured, they do not know, will die. The family, in exchange, will receive 1 mln. dollars in cash. Their ultimate decisions in this regard leads them down a path of more, increasingly complex dilemmas.
The acting in the film is, unfortunately, somewhat disappointing in the case Cameron Diaz. For all of her experience, one would think that she could carry the role of a Virginian schoolteacher. Her dialect, however, appears heavy and forced at times. Her acting is stiff, and I did not really feel for the character. This is a significant drawback, considering that the movie is largely based on her being forced to make difficult choices. Her husband, played by James Marsden (X-Men), is somewhat of a saviour in this regard. It is his role that ultimately carries the emotional weight of the film in the final scene. Frank Langella is a seasoned actor, and we’ve come to expect the very best of him, which he delivers without difficulty. His devil-like role in the film, if unconvincing, would shoot down the film instantly.
Ultimately, my suggestion for Richard Kelly is, to get back to the roots, and make the films more personal. There is no reason why, as the movies get better funding, and the actors hired are more seasoned, the actual quality of the characters should suffer. Besides that, and a few problems with the plot, I do encourage people to see the film. It is entertaining and thought provoking if you are willing to work with it a little bit. This is a film where what you receive from the viewing is proportional to what you put into it.