A mysterious box is delivered to the doorstep of a young married couple, Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (James Marsden) and their son Malcolm (Kevin DeCoste). Then the mysterious and badly scarred Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) turns up and explains that pushing the button inside the box gives them the option to become instantly rich - but at a high price: someone they don't know will die. Their decision sends them on a journey they could never have imagined and tests their moral code as well as their love.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's a curly can of worms that this intriguing premise involving action, reaction and consequence prises open. Richard Kelly, director of the memorable Donnie Darko has directed and adapted a breathtaking sci-fi thriller from a short story by Richard Matheson. Everything is mysterious, from the classified info we are given at the beginning, to the early morning doorbell ring, note of announcement and subsequent visit by Frank Langella's mysterious Mr Steward, who offers Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz, James Marsden) a unique financial opportunity. Is it a prank or could this be something more sinister?
Just as he created a tangible mood in Donnie Darko, Kelly ensures that we become entangled in a dense mood of angst and anticipation as the story plays out. Cameron Diaz, always instantly likeable onscreen is vulnerable here as the wife and mother who learns the meaning of regret, while James Marsden is impressive as the aspiring astronaut husband whose advanced technological work is indistinguishable from magic. Langella imparts great presence throughout - even the scenes in which he is not - we can somehow still sense his aura.
Strange things begin to happen after Mr Steward comes into the Lewis' lives and people start behaving strangely. There's a rude student, an inquisitive babysitter and faces that peer through windows. Noses bleed at inopportune times, too. I especially enjoyed the first part of the journey, which raises question after question in the long road in which salvation and damnation lie on opposing sides. The audience is basically faced with a decision: to buy or not to buy the premise. Spectacular effects involving water are seamlessly moulded into the narrative and there is plenty to think about when the story comes to its logical conclusion. This is a chilling, thought provoking drama with plenty to debate and will no doubt divide audiences.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The grand old daddy of moral choices is harnessed for an expedition to the very, very furthest side, in The Box, the kind of story that would make ... ooops, DID make, a reasonable short story. A stranger with strange powers comes to this suburban couple who are struggling with lack of money - just at the right moment to tempt them. They are promised $1 million dollars in tax free cash by the mysterious man's mysterious source (his 'employers') if they just push the button. The button once pushed will have the effect of killing someone. The suggestion that it's all part of a Government agency's experiment is meant to throw us off the scent. It doesn't. The scent of foolery is overpowering.
Frank Langella is marvellously mellifluous as the oddly disfigured Arlington Steward, whose genteel courtesies cover a cold and dispassionate intellect with moral judgement always stirred and shaken - but only by implication. This all happens in Langley, Virginia, the centre for spook activity and NASA, too, and the bubbling soup of the extra terrestrial and the mystical - with a sprinkling of moral righteousness - is given a right old stir with a spoon made of cinematic silliness. Man's lack of compassion, as proven by the decisions of these dorky people, might lead to the mysterious higher powers wiping humans out. Take that for compassion.
Somehow, I stayed with the film for the first 90 minutes or so, open to its complex storytelling and its mysteries, but then it just implodes (in a torrent of water and inexplicably jarring jumps in story) and becomes totally risible. So much so that I had to check it isn't an M. Night Shayamalan job. It isn't; it's a Richard Kelly job, he of Donnie Darko fame, for heaven's sake. I think aliens invaded his mind and kidnapped his judgement cells. The Box is on my worst films of 2009 list. I still like Langella, though ....
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BOX, THE (M)
CAST: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Deborah Rush, Gillian Jacobs, Michael Zegen, James Rebhorn, Celia Weston
PRODUCER: Richard Kelly
DIRECTOR: Richard Kelly
SCRIPT: Richard Kelly (short story by Richard Matheson)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Steven B. Poster
EDITOR: Sam Bauer
MUSIC: Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, Owen Pallett
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alec Hammond
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 29, 2009