Film Review: The Box (2009)

Into the Dark: Film Review - The Box (2009)

The Box is weird and anachronistic in a cool way, but also a little too indulgent. I’d be lying to say I didn’t dig it. This is the third film from writer/director Richard Kelly, who created a cult phenomenon with Donnie Darko, but then flopped big time with his scatter-brained Southland Tales. The Box is based on “Button, Button,” an episode of the original Twilight Zone TV series penned by sci-fi god Richard Matheson. It centers around a well-meaning but financially strapped couple (James Marsden and Cameron Diaz) who receive a spooky visitor (Frank Langella) with a mysterious contraption that could end their financial woes forever. Langella’s character leaves them a box with a button. All they have to do is push the button, and their lives are guaranteed to turn around immediately. But here’s the rub: by pushing the button, they will end a single, anonymous human life.

The film is very retro, reminiscent of both David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock, complete with a Hermannesque music score. But if you don’t enjoy the frame of reference, the high melodrama and tongue-in-cheek humor may stick in your craw. When Kelly milks the movie’s simple premise for dramatic effect, The Box works very well. But he still has a tendency to needlessly over-complicate his storytelling, especially in the second act, where he reintroduces that Donnie Darko watery portal business.  Dear Mr. Kelly, this movie doesn’t need watery portals. Please step away from the watery portals.

Into the Dark: Film Review - The Box (2009)

James Marsden and Cameron Diaz open their very own Pandora’s Box.

And for all the mystery that builds for the first hour, there then comes a horrendously clunky scene where Frank Langella (sporting a nifty half-eaten face) comes in and explains everything, deflating all suspense. Fortunately, the third act introduces an entirely new moral dilemma, and comes to an appropriate, satisfying conclusion.

Overall, The Box is messy but interesting, and I tend to value messy interesting movies over polished rehash.  So despite its flaws, I still enjoyed The Box as an old-fashioned homage to styles of filmmaking and storytelling that are scarce to find these days.

Rating: 3/5 ★★★☆☆ 


About Scott_S

Scott studied film and sociology at Indiana University and is currently the video producer for a large publishing company. He is the director of several independent films, including "House of Hope," "Off the Beaten Path," "The Day Joe Left," and "Found." For more about Scott, visit Scott is also one of the principal organizers of the Dark Carnival Film Festival. (

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