Welcome to the Blumhouse: Black Box review
James R | On 06, Oct 2020
Director: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr
Cast: Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine
Watch Black Box online in the UK: Amazon Prime
Memories and cinema have always had a close relationship, as the way our brains recall past events and people echo the act of watching back a movie. There’s something about the way we become a spectator that joins the two on a fundamental, elemental level, as both involve delving into a frozen time capsule that reconstructs fact and/or fiction as it unspools. Black Box, the second of Amazon’s eight Blumhouse films (released under the umbrella “Welcome to the Blumhouse”), is a deep dive into the potency of memories and how they shape who we are.
The film centres on Nolan (Mamoudou Athie), who lost his wife in a car accident that also sent him spinning into a coma. Now, he can only remember fragments of his life, which leads him to undergo some experimental therapy with the mysterious doctor Lillian (Phylicia Rashad). Given a VR headset to wear, he starts to watch back important events in his life – but why doesn’t he remember any of them?
Mamoudou Athie delivers a nuanced, thoughtful performance as a man who feels like a shell of who he was – and he’s supported brilliantly by Amanda Christine as his daughter Ava, who’s been forced to grow up too fast to take care of them both. Their scenes together, particularly in the first half of the movie, are Black Box’s strongest feature, as they effortlessly capture an intimacy and trust, a knowledge of who this other person in their life is.
Needless to say, though, things go awry, and Nolan’s treatment sends him spinning into a dizzying prison of the unknown. Every time he relives a memory, it veers into nightmarish territory, with an unnatural figure assembling at the edge of the frame and creeping disjointedly towards him. From blurred-out faces to a displaced sense of self, the visually impressive result is somewhere between Black Mirror, The Ring and Get Out, although Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr and Stephen Herman’s script finds enough fresh material for it to be more than just a greatest hits genre mixtape.
What begins as a question of memory and identity turns into a question of where memories come from, and yet the more the film has to answer its own mysteries – from hints of domestic violence to a mother-son relationship that’s toxic in an unforeseen way – the more conventional and forgettable this intriguing puzzle box becomes. What might have been wrapped up in a tauter 60-minute tale by Black Mirror becomes a little loose in places, most notably in an underwhelming third act. Nonetheless, this is a confident calling card for director Osei-Kuffour Jr and will leave you keeping an eye out for what he does next.
Black Box is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.