The Box marks the first time in a while that I went into a theater with little or no pre-conceived notions or expectations about the film. It didn’t have any actors in it that I could really call myself a fan of (even though I think James Marsden and Frank Langella are quite talented) and it was directed by the guy who did Donnie Darko, which I never really got into. Couple that with a general lack of marketing until a couple weeks ago, and I really didn’t know much about it. Which afforded me an excellent opportunity to take a fresh look at a new film.
The setup seems basic enough. A small wooden box with a button arrives on the doorstep of a married couple, and they are afforded the knowledge that if they press the button, it will grant them a million dollars and kill someone they don’t know. You can guess whether they choose to push the button or not, given that righteousness makes for a fairly tedious film.
Reviewer’s note: there are dozens of plot moments and scenes that could be construed as spoilers, given the lack of plot information you’ll find in the trailers. I’ll tread carefully, and not reveal anything that isn’t covered fairly early on.
I’ll start with some of the good things.
This film, while never quite being “scary”, does a very good job of being creepy. The general feeling of discomfort and uncertainty starts about seven minutes in, and never really ends. While many films might try for some comic relief or something to lighten the mood, The Box maintains the tension, which is much more effective.
The film had me legitimately interested in finding out what the big secret behind the box was. A couple of plot devices are pretty obvious from the get-go, but in general, I was seriously curious, which speaks to the fact that this movie engrossed me in it enough to want to know the answer.
The actors all do a very good job in the role they are given. I’m yet to see James Marsden do a bad job (even when it’s playing a useless douche in X-men). Frank Langella is subtly disturbing in his character, always smooth and charming, but still scary as hell. I’ve never been a big fan of Cameron Diaz, but she does a respectable job with her role.
There are a lot of little moments in this film, little touches that add to the story in a symbolic way. Whether it’s prolonged awkward stares at a reception (highlighting the main character’s guilt, and feeling that everybody is watching them), a slightly lingering shot of a character looking at somebody though the supports on a banister (giving the impression that they are behind bars), to James Marsden cutting his knuckle shortly after the button is pushed (guess).
While The Box seems to have all the pieces to the puzzle, it can never seem to quite connect them in a convincing fashion. As the film went on, and various aspects of the plot were developed and unearthed, two movies by M. Night Shyamalan came to mind: The Sixth Sense and The Happening. Both films dealt with something odd occurring, which could be the work of the supernatural (Sixth Sense) or of something scientific (The Happening…..wow did that movie suck). The difference between these two films is not the ultimate explanation, but how well the plot device works. The Sixth Sense manages to wrap you into the story and engage you, while The Happening was completely ridiculous. It’s a difficult balance to strike.
See, The Box is by no means as ridiculous as the epically horrible The Happening, but it never quite works. The plot and the explanations never quite get to where they need to be to not appear silly.
And to that end, the whole movie has the right parts, it just never quite does what it needs to to really be a good movie. It has its positive qualities, don’t get me wrong. It just never quite realizes its potential.
Overall, I give The Box a 65.
Oh, and after James Marsden’s character get the blood on his hand, somebody tells him (and by proxy the apparently mentally deficient audience) “You’ve got blood on your hands.” Oh that’s what that meant! I would have been totally lost on the meaning of blood being on his hand were it not for you!
Sorry, explaining obvious symbolism is a pet peeve of mine. When I heard that line I hit my forehead so hard with my hand I needed tylenol later.
For Attebiz Movie Reviews, I’m the J-man