Pros: Surprisingly intelligent, decidedly creepy.
Cons: Still reminescent of a Twilight Zone Episode.
The Box (2009) Directed by Richard Kelly
Arlington Steward: I have an offer to make. If you push the button, two things will happen. First, someone, somewhere in the world, whom you don't know, will die...
My Friend Tom: [Pushes button] Whap!...Whappity Whap Whap!
Arlington Steward: Yours was not a happy childhood, was it?
Okay, that quote is from the movie as reinvisioned by Tom. I was initially resistant to seeing this movie, thinking it would just be a stretched out episode of The Twilight Zone. Happily, I was wrong.
Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) are a lovely young couple, with one child, Walter (Sam Oz Stone). Arthur is an astronaut candidate, Norma is a teacher at Walter's school. They have a few lifestyle problems; living close to the edge of their credit score. So when the schools stops the teacher tuition discount, it is a blow. When Arthur flunks out of the program, it is a bigger one.
Then a mysterious package is left on their doorstep. Inside is a box with a button on top, complete with glass dome that locks to protect it. With it is an announcement that Mr. Steward will be by at 5:00pm. And sure enough, he is a man of his word. Mr. Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) is quite remarkable; half of his face is a twisted scarred crater, quite horrific. And his offer is much the same. "I have an offer to make. If you push the button, two things will happen. First, someone, somewhere in the world, whom you don't know, will die. Second, you will receive a payment of one million dollars. You have 24 hours."
There are a few rules. They can't tell anyone. They can't ask who Mr. Steward works for. And the offer is off the table in 24 hours.
Great recipe for a moral quandary, right? I mean, is it even real? But that is not where the movie is going. Norma pushes the button. The next day, Mr. Steward brings them a brief case with one million in cash, and picks up the box, and informs them it will be given to someone they don't know. But the Lewis' are having second thoughts. They don't want the money. They don't want to hurt anyone. But the button has been pushed.
The movie takes a hard left turn through Twin Peaks. Kelly uses repetition to very good effect. Nose bleeds, the peace sign, the involvement of the NSA with NASA, simple things gain greater and greater significance as they repeat. And any action can be made creepy, depending on how many people are doing it. Kelly has a great sense of how to work "subtly off" into goose bumps.
Nor is it merely clever movie craft, but emotional connection that makes this work; one of the best being the connection between the hideously disfigured Arlington Steward, and Norma Lewis' limp. The guilt the Lewis' felt, and their growing fear creates a visceral connection with the audience.
I was surprised at how intelligent, insightful, and subtle this movie was. No wonder it did so poorly at the box office.
This review is Lean-N-Mean. It is also entered into Captain D's Good Movies Write Off.