Film Review: The Box

2009 drama/mystery: Directed by Richard Kelly; starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, and Frank Langella. [rated PG-13] Stars given: 1/5.

“Mr. Steward will call upon you at 5 p.m.”

Starting right out of the gate with a strange mystery already in full swing, “The Box” retells the short story (and, later, “Twilight Zone” episode) of “Button, Button”; the tale of a couple who receive a plain box that holds a button and the ultimate question: would you remotely kill an unknown person by pushing a button in exchange for one million dollars?

December 16, 1976— Norma, Arthur, and son, Walter, make up the Lewis family; a normal suburban family who live in a normal suburban setting. One morning, the doorbell rings at five in the morning, but there is no one there… nothing but a box, with a note: “Mr. Stewart will call upon you at 5 p.m.” Just as the note says, at five p.m., a man with a scarred face shows up, introducing himself as Arlington Steward. He explains everything as he gives her a key: if they push the button, someone they do not know will die, and they will receive one million dollars. To prove it, he opens a briefcase full of one-hundred dollar bills and gives her one before leaving. The only catch is that they can’t tell anyone about him or the box within the 24 hours that they possess it. So, with Norma’s job being downsized (which puts a risk to Walter’s education) and Arthur’s rejection by NASA, it all comes down to one thing: could they live with themselves, knowing that someone they did not know died in order for them to pay for the things they need? What is it to really “know” someone?

The film has an odd, almost over-exposed look to it, undoubtedly intended to give an unnerving and almost dream-like quality to it. In all reality, however, it just made me want to readjust my TV set. And when it came to the SFX, the filmmakers clearly used a green-screened CGI effect to create the scarring on Mr. Arlington’s face; it is incredibly obvious, especially when looking at the man either straight on or in a three-quarter point of view. While the close-up look of the scars is impressive, the rest of the time, it looks laughably fake.

Even worse than the SFX in “The Box” is the layout of the plot. A question is asked, left unanswered for ten or so minutes, and then answered later by another character in another setting. It’s horribly formulated even further to be dialogue-heavy so that, if you miss something (sometimes even a single line), you miss out on a huge chunk of the story. I even had to rewind the film a couple of times, just because I didn’t catch the line.

Uh… what was the plot again?

Poor translation to screenplay, poor SFX, and an over-exposure look that just comes across as poor-planning all makes “The Box” a feature that ranks 1 out of 5. It’s almost a slap in the face, considering how much there is to work with, but there is very little that makes the film redeemable. However, if you are a fan of either leading actors, you might still find it worth your time.

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