The Box – There are always consequences…

the_box_poster_2A man sporting a horrible disfigurement turns up at your door with an offer. He tells you that your money worries could be over; you can have one million dollars in cash, but you have to press a button that will initiate the death of someone that you do not know. What would you do?

The Box introduces us to happily married couple Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur (James Marsden) Lewis living their lives in a quiet suburban area in the late 70s. Arthur works for NASA and is awaiting approval to enter the astronaut program, whilst Norma is a school teacher.

She has a disfigurement relating to her foot that hinders her ability to walk, but her loving husband is secretly working on some technology that could permanently fix this. Their touching relationship is magnified by the presence of their bright and happy young son, Walter.

Norma’s school tells her that the staff discount she receives for her own son’s tuition is to be scrapped. This is coupled with further bad news; Arthur is turned down for the astronaut program despite his absolute confidence that he strolled through every test without any problems.

The couple turn to each other, vowing to soldier on in the face of adversity. But a peculiar box, containing a red button within a locked dome, is delivered to their door in the early hours, and an accompanying note states that Arlington Stewart (Frank Langella) will be visiting the next day at 5pm. True to the words of the note, burn-victim Arlington Stewart knocks at the door and presents his bizarre and morally questionable offer. Norma and Arthur can use the key to open the dome and press the red button, leaving themselves one million dollars richer. But someone, somewhere, whom they do not know, will die. They have 24 hours to decide, and once that time has elapsed Arlington Stewart will return and reclaim the box.

The intriguing premise is taken from a short story entitled Button, Button, by I Am Legend author Richard Matheson. We were initially concerned that this movie could be a couple of very boring hours during which two people decide if it’s okay to push a button. Luckily, the whole “do they/don’t they” issue is resolved very quickly, and Arlington returns to retrieve his little contraption.

What follows defies description; the movie goes in a very peculiar direction that deserves plaudits for its bravery if nothing else. Norma and Arthur become embroiled in a surreal and massively significant situation where their own choices could have a serious and detrimental effect on countless other individuals.

The Box is directed by Richard Kelly, the man at the helm of cult favourite Donnie Darko. Fans of that movie will certainly see some similarities in the tone of The Box, without either film being particularly alike in terms of story direction. Kelly absolutely nails the late 70s; the disturbing wallpaper patterns synonymous with that particular era serve as a sort of catalyst to the eerie and surreal nature of the film.

Frank Langella (Nixon in Frost/Nixon and, oddly, Skeletor in Masters Of The Universe) is brilliant; his dulcet and bass-heavy vocal tones are mesmerising, and his line delivery is perfect. Arlington Stewart is an inexplicable amalgam of cold, warm, mysterious, terrifying, harsh, honest, good and evil. Confidently portraying such a complex character, in only a supporting role, is surely a difficult task, and one in which Langella really excels.

Cameron Diaz does a Virginia accent that is almost as unpleasant as her Irish turn in Gangs of New York. She is a talented actress, but regional impressions are not her forte. Diaz and James Marsden work hard to create authentic portrayals of characters dealing with a very bizarre situation, but they can both, at times, become a slightly dull presence onscreen. It has to be said, however, that they certainly earn their money during the film’s climax.

The Box is at once exciting and intriguing, even if it does get a little muddled in places. The director achieves an unusually brisk pace for sci-fi mystery, and there are some immensely harrowing moments where you find yourself truly troubled by the events that are unfolding. The Box is about ethics and consequences, love and sacrifice; and it does a solid job of unifying those elements. Whilst many may feel disappointed with The Box due to the direction it takes and the blunt resolution, it has to be said that any film generating discussion, and raising questions about humanism and the meaning of being human, should be recognised as a relevant and important piece of art.

Image: SciFiScoop

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