Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Runtime: 1 hr 53 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
The best-directed bad movie of 2009.
Review by: MiamiMovieCritic
Added: 4 years ago
As much as I’d love to defend Richard Kelly’s latest science-fiction head trip, I just can’t bring myself to do it. It’s a beautiful failure, but a failure nonetheless.
By now you’ve probably been scared away from going to see it – the film received an “F” rating from fans, the lowest possible CinemaScore. Kelly was aiming for a high-minded sci-fi morality tale, but what he ended up with is more along the lines of THE HAPPENING. Long stretches of the film are filled with random people doing weird things that go unexplained for far too long.
THE BOX may go down as the best-directed bad movie of 2009. With its dark plot twists and ‘70s aesthetic, it invites comparisons to the masterly Brian De Palma. The original score (inspired by frequent De Palma collaborator Bernard Herrmann and composed by three members of Arcade Fire) is a neo-suspense classic. Unfortunately, the film plays like one of De Palma’s terrible latter-day thrillers, like SNAKE EYES and FEMME FATALE. Like those empty exercises in style, THE BOX is in desperate need of a rewrite. This might be a good time for Kelly to put down his writing utensil and become a director-for-hire.
Kelly adapted the screenplay for THE BOX from a story by Richard Matheson. The filmmaker has expanded the source material considerably, but I can’t imagine Matheson had the same ideas in mind when he wrote his skimpily plotted short story. Even if he did, at least the author had the good sense to keep those ideas to himself.
Without giving too much way, I’ll say that THE BOX concerns an upper-middle class couple named Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (James Marsden). They receive a mysterious box on their doorstep one day, along with a note telling them to expect a visit from one Arlington Steward (Frank Langella). Steward’s arrival is one of the most frighteningly effective scenes in the movie – half his face is gone, and when he talks, you can see his teeth moving where his cheek should be. Yikes!
Steward makes them an offer they can’t refuse: at the push of a button, they’ll receive $1 million, but someone they don’t know will die. The film is essentially a parable about modern capitalism, or what Naomi Klein has called “disaster capitalism.” Kelly throws in references to existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre and some far-out stuff involving a “gateway” (visualized – just like in Kelly’s brilliant debut film, DONNIE DARKO – as a watery portal). But the story lacks the exhilarating sense of discovery that made DONNIE a cult classic.
Kelly is an undeniably talented filmmaker (SOUTHLAND TALES, his universally panned sophomore effort, is seriously misunderstood), but his writing has gotten painfully obvious, even amateurish. Every other aspect of THE BOX is superb, especially the acting. Diaz and Marsden are emotionally honest in every scene, even when the story turns ridiculous. And Langella has great fun as the bad guy – though, when he finally got around to explaining his motives, he sounded a bit like Eros in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. (“You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!”)
The movie is filled with a lot of references to NO EXIT, Sartre’s most famous play. In it, the French philosopher concludes that “hell is other people.” In light of the savage response to his junky new film, Kelly may be inclined to agree.