Director: Richard Kelly
Cast: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
Do you guys remember The Twilight Zone, the old TV show that told weird and sometimes creepy stories in your younger days? Well, the film I'm gonna talk about is in some way related to that.
The Box is based on the short story Button, Button by Richard Matheson, and was once translated to a story for The Twilight Zone. Set in 1976, it focuses on a couple, Norma and Arthur Lewis, she is a schoolteacher, he's an engineer for NASA. Times have been hard on them, and they've been living from paycheque to paycheque. They have a young son, Walter who is rather eager to grow up, but a good boy nonetheless.
One day, they receive a box with a big red button on it, not knowing who left it on their doorstep. Subsequently, a disfigured old man named Arlington Steward stops by and tells them about the box he gave them. Steward says that if they push the button, he will give them one million dollars in cash, tax free. But consequently, someone in the world, whom they do not know, will die. They have 24 hours to decide whether or not to push the button, or he takes the box back and offers it to someone else.
Norma and Arthur don't know what to make of the whole thing. Is the man telling the truth, and if so, how would it be possible? And if it is possible, are they ready to cause another person's demise? Well, in the end, you know the button has to be pushed so that the story can continue. But things start to get complicated after that, as Arthur tries to dig into the old man's identity, and that leads to very dire consequences.
Director Richard Kelly succeeds in making us empathise with his leads. The couple and their son are the main focus of the film, and it's through their eyes that we see and feel their plight. Norma has a walking disability, and we see Arthur using his knowledge to help her so that she can walk normally again. This subplot is quite relevant as it pertains to Norma's perception of Steward, although it's rather tragic how this fact gets overlooked in the climax.
Cameron Diaz is exceptionally good as Norma, since she's usually in a romcom or a comedy. She pulls off this serious role convincingly, though her Southern accent isn't quite perfect. James Marsden is a fine actor who hasn't quite snagged a lead role for himself yet, but ought to soon, for his performance as Arthur is strong indeed. Frank Langella lends a quiet yet disarming charm as the mysterious Arlington Steward.
On paper, The Box is a fine morality tale on choices we make, and how not to give in to curiousity. But here, the film falters in some places. There are a lot of things that don't make sense, or never explained, which may be in line of this being a Twilight Zone kind of tale. But scenes like the water gateways and Arthur and Norma being stalked by strangers right out of The Invasion begs some logical definition. And everyone in the film talks slowly most of the time, probably to suit the 70s era, but it's still much too distracting, and becomes dull after a while.
With some tighter editing and better execution, The Box would have been a great thriller. But it's not even thrilling in parts, and on a whole, not entertaining enough. (3/5)