Netflix UK film review: The Box
Ivan Radford | On 12, Jul 2017
Director: Richard Kelly
Cast: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
Watch The Box online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV Store / Google Play
We’ve all received weird things in the post. Books, fish, underwear. But nothing quite like this: a box with a button on it. A big, red button that, if pressed, will give you $1 million. And will kill someone, somewhere in the world, who you don’t know. It’s one heck of a offer. But if Mr Steward (Langella) turned up on your doorstep, would you push the button?
Norma (Diaz) and Arthur (Marsden) Lewis do. It’s no surprise, really, given that she’s a frustrated private school teacher and he’s practically an astronaut – with their son’s school upping the tuition fees, they clearly are in dire need of money. It’s not like they’re already rich, well-off people. They’re clearly salt of the earth folks who we can all identify with, even with their annoying Virginian accents.
But push the button they do, leading them into a world of weird and supernatural science fiction. As you would expect, Richard “Donnie Darko” Kelly’s script is twisted and elusive, refusing to give straight answers to its fascinating first question. But where his breakout sci-fi had an elegant, engaging structure, The Box is a bit all over the place. It has that eerie Lynchian thing down pat, but not so much substance to work with; the original short story, by Richard Matheson, was made into a Twilight Zone episode, which kept things short and snappy. Here, at two hours, the pace is varied.
At times, Kelly magics up a sense of a menace, shepherding a sea of faceless drones through a library with suspense-filled precision. Following Frank Langella’s lightning-scarred face, they’re a spooky army of employees, who listen to his every suave command. But the threat is soon killed off by Kelly’s own ambition; he wants to leave us in an obscure rabbit hole of weirdness, but when Arlington Steward turns to the camera and announces “I am in communication with those who control the lightning”, it’s miles from effective or intriguing. It’s actually quite laughable.
The period locations are well designed – even the CGI does a decent job – but NASA? Nose bleeds? Swimming pools? You could try connecting the dots, but most of them are unnecessary blips. Despite its initial concept, The Box is a mismanaged mess. During the film’s slow opening act, Norma and Arthur debate their dilemma. Then, when Arthur goes to turn off the Christmas tree lights, he comments: “Everybody dies”. From that moment on, it really doesn’t matter who does. Especially if it stops Cameron Diaz talking in that accent.
Quite ably shot, and nicely scored, Richard Kelly’s latest is more patchy than perplexing. There’s thinking outside The Box, and there’s forgetting to put something in it.
The Box is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.