Directed by Richard Kelly
Written by Richard Kelly, based on the short story ‘Button, Button’ by Richard Matheson
Starring Cameron Diaz (Norma Lewis), James Marsden (Arthur Lewis), Frank Langella (Arlington Stewart), Sam Oz Stone (Walter Lewis), Holmes Osborne (Dick Burns), Gillian Jacobs (Dana / Sarah Matthews), Deborah Rush (Clymene Steward), Ryan Woodle (Lucas Carnes), James Rebhorn (Norm Cahill), Celia Weston (Lana Burns) and Allyssa Maurice (Suzanne Weller)
A package containing a strange box with a button locked inside a clear Perspex dome is left on the doorstep of the home of Norma Lewis, a teacher, and her husband Arthur, a NASA engineer. Norma then receives a visit from a mysterious stranger who is missing a large chunk of the left side of his face. He introduces himself as Arlington Stewart and tells Norma if she and her husband unlock the box and press the button someone they do not know will die, but they will receive one million dollars. Arthur is sure it must be a hoax, but when Norma presses the button Arlington Stewart once again calls to hand over a briefcase full of money. However, Norma and Arthur are filled with guilt and their lives begin to spiral out of control as they are overtaken by increasingly surreal events that have tragic consequences.
Writer-director Richard Kelly made an immediate impact with his critically acclaimed debut full-length feature ‘Donnie Darko’ in 2001. Its belated follow-up ‘Southland Tales’ was finally released in 2007 after a troubled gestation to a suspiciously gratuitous mauling from some critics. It is certainly an over-ambitious sprawling mess of a film, but I like it. ‘The Box’ is Kelly’s most recent film, based on ‘Button, Button’, a 1970 short story by Richard Matheson that was made into an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ in 1986.
‘The Box’ shares many similarities with Richard Kelly’s previous work, ‘Donnie Darko’ in particular, and is certainly typical of his established style, with its themes of science and metaphysics. It is very slow moving and resolutely downbeat. I must admit that for a time I found it bordering on being quite simply boring, but I wanted to know what happened and that kept me watching, until eventually I just seemed to slip into the rhythm of the film. I suspect it is a film that would benefit from repeat viewings and I would like to watch again sometime, but perhaps not in a hurry.
‘The Box’ was greeted with very mixed reviews, many of them negative. It has a 45% rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 132 reviews. It grossed just over $29 million at the box office against a production budget of $30 million.
Review posted 3 May 2010