Donnie Darko's Richard Kelly is back with his third major film, the Cameron Diaz/James Marsden-starring thriller The Box, an equally confusing but not nearly as satisfying sci-fi film. The Box sets the stage for something grand, but when all is said and done it fizzles.
Set in 1976, the movie follows Norma and Arthur Lewis, a financially strapped couple who are awoken in the middle of the night to find a mysterious box on their doorstep. The next day, a hideously scarred man (played by Frank Langella) shows up and tells them that if they press the button on the box two things will happen: 1) they will receive $1 million in cash, and 2) someone, somewhere in the world they don't know, will die. Naturally, they press the button. Soon thereafter, though, the couple begins to suspect that they have initiated a series of events that will destroy their family and, perhaps, leave at least one of them dead.
The movie's premise is intriguing, and for a while Kelly manages to live up to whatever promise his fans believe he's made to them. The movie thrives on its mystery, and as long as Kelly is building upon it without giving real answers, The Box works as expected.
Unfortunately, as soon as the mystery unravels, so does the film. The Box becomes more and more absurd as it approaches the finish line, which is fine except that the finish line doesn't exist. A movie like this relies on its ending, and the ending is where The Box disintegrates into nothing. Kelly likes to end his films without clear resolution, which is fine as long as he provides some resolution - and that doesn't happen here. The picture just ends abruptly, leaving a huge, lingering sense of disappointment as the credits roll.
Now, some would say that Donnie Darko - one of the most celebrated sci-fi films in recent memory - ends in a similar fashion, but The Box is nothing like that film. In Donnie Darko, there was a sense of purpose and accomplishment, of mystery that was meant to be deciphered many ways. The Box, which also lacks the same general entertainment value and overall cohesiveness of Darko, needed to give audiences more to swallow, not just chew on. In this regard, Kelly fails.
The Box has its moments and certainly is not without some substance, but Kelly seems so caught up with providing metaphorical answers that he forgot to deliver a satisfying conclusion, even an obscure one. As a result, The Box is just that - a shell without much in it.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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