I watched The Box today, Richard Kelly’s third film after Southland Tales and Donnie Darko. The Box is a reimagining of a short story by Richard Matheson(also the author of I Am Legend) which was also a Twilight Zone episode. The premise of the story is fairly simple – someone is given a box with a button on it. If they push it they get $1,000,000 at the cost of someone they don’t know dying. I was interested to see how this story would be expanded to movie length. The result was disappointing.
While the film did an excellent job of keeping me interested, towards the end things began to be implied that were preposterous and it was obvious that the questions the film raised were not going to be answered. Towards the end of the film it is implied aliens are administrating tests on humans, one of which is the box. The reason given for these tests is to see if Humans are capable of putting their species above their own selfish desires. There are so many problems with the way this is presented.
First of all, from what we see of the couple the box is presented to they strongly believe it to be a hoax of some sort. Cameron Diaz’s character presses the button in a moment on spontaneity after her husband examines it and is sure that there is no way for anyone to know if the button has been pressed or not. The situation is probably similar for most people who are presented with the offer due to its absurdity. How, then, is this test in any way accurate? Not to mention the sample size of the test is likely so insignificance as to render the results irrelevant. I also found it quite odd that “they” were willing to punish the husband who made did nothing wrong, and to punish the son for the sins of the parents. How does this aid their test?
Many things were hinted at, and many questions raised without being answered apparently all in vain. The entire subplot with the water doors or “triptychs” doesn’t seem to related to the premise in any way, and only hints at a larger story which is never fleshed out or shown how it relates back to the box. Likewise with the bizarre references to “The Light” and the zombie people who stalk James Marsden. There is also a subplot about Cameron Diaz’s disfigured foot and one of her students bullying her which seems their only to fill time. I also found it strange that they gave Cameron Diaz a disfigurement. Why? So they could draw a parralel with the man who made the offer? To give her motivation for her speech near the end? At least there was no eyes poked out, which were present in Jelly’s previous two films.
Ultimately this updating of a simple short story is a failure. While it may work somewhat as a movie and be entertaining, almost everything from the original story or Twilight Zone episode is lost. The examination of people and an interesting moral dilemma is reduced, with the box being considered a hoax the moral issue does not have to be considered seriously by the people it is offered to. Instead the moral dilemma is replaced with a conspiracy thriller and a quest for the truth behind the offer which turns out to be not at all interesting, and deeply flawed.
Also strange was the decision to involve NASA in the plot. Despite the implied alien presence in the film, NASA does not factor in at all nor does James Marsden use his resource their to try and obtain more information. I can only suppose NASA was included due to personal reasons with his father having worked at NASA. I’m not sure what to make of Richard Kelly’s films any longer. I have not seen his two shorts, thought Donnie Darko was amazing if not horrendously overrated and though Southland Tales made no sense whatsoever. His latest effort The Box seems to be a result of trying to hard. If the story was to be adapter to the screen, the focus should have remained on the moral issues and not turned it into a cheap excuse to make a science-fiction conspiracy thriller.