I was really ready to like this film. The premise is extremely interesting. If a strange man offers you a weird box and said that you could have a million dollars if you pushed the button inside but someone, somewhere that you don’t know will die, what would you do? I was looking forward to seeing how this would play out but unfortunately all I get from Richard Kelly’s “The Box” is mixed feelings and an unsatisfying ending. There are aspects of the film I really liked such as the choice to make it a period piece set in 1976. It made for a bold and sharp look. I also very much liked the performance of Cameron Diaz. I think she is an extremely underrated actress. Despite that I still felt cheated by the film in a way.
The premise is so wild and at times becomes so abstract that it really takes a leap of faith to follow and I did that but the ending is like pulling the carpet out from underneath your feet and I wished the filmmakers took as big a risk with the ending as they did with the lead up. The ending has no twist, it’s exactly what the film promised it would be and I felt like I was waiting for something to happen that never did. I don’t need a happy ending but I feel it would be nice for the protagonist to have some kind of victory or catharsis at the end and that wasn’t there. Not to mention the fact that the bad guy gets away in the end completely free of consequence further supports my argument. I just wish that the film respected the journey it is asking the audience to go own a bit more. There are some wild concepts in the film to swallow and after I did the result in the end was just such a let down. The film makes you believe that it is going to go in the exact opposite of the way it seems to be going but in the end really sticks to what it has set up and the result is no twist, no third act surprise to throw you off, just a lot of odd things thrown together for effect which leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth by film’s end.
The movie is set in 1976 and centers around Norma played by an extremely underrated Cameron Diaz. Norma is a schoolteacher married to a NASA worker played by James Marsden. One morning she wakes up and finds an unusual box on her porch. The note says, “Mr. Steward will arrive at 5PM.” As the couple waits for the visitor they examine the box. It is wooden, nothing special and contains a simple red button. 5PM arrives and so does Mr. Steward played by the always great, Frank Langella. He is an older man and half of his face has been burned off leaving a severe scar, which was not delivered well by the VFX department. The old man explains that he has a proposition for the couple. Push the button and he’ll give them a million dollars, cash, no strings attached but someone, somewhere, that they don’t know will die. Norma can only discuss this with her husband and has 24 hours to make a decision. Norma has a foot injury that she is very insecure about and has difficulty dealing with. I have to say that Diaz handled the impediment well and I thought it was a nice touch to the character. She gets the news that the private school she teaches at will no longer provide discounts for faculty members and fears that her son will have to go to public school next semester. Her husband Arthur is also dealing with the news that his dreams of being an astronaut are not going to come true. All of these reasons combined compel Norma to push the button. Upon arrival Mr. Steward takes the box back and delivers the money. He then says that he will now give the box to someone else, that they do not know. What follows is a series of interesting and strange events that lead up to the conclusion of the film.
As the couple investigates what exactly they’ve done they encounter strange behavior among the local town's people and their friends and family, who are all experiencing mysterious nosebleeds. As the film unfolds we learn that Arlington Steward once worked for NASA but was struck by lightning and when he awoke, he was something else. This something else is never really explained but assumed as extraterrestrial. He is here to test us with the box and will continue to do so until we pass or else. Again, the or else is a bit vague here as well. There are some fantastical ideas introduced here such as a water-like doorway that Arthur encounters that leads him to hover over Norma lying on her bed. The film concludes with Mr. Steward’s return and one more proposition. Their son has been in a terrible accident one we assume was caused by Steward and his employees. He is locked in the upstairs bathroom and can no longer see or hear. He will remain this way forever unless Arthur shoots Norma in the chest killing her. Without giving away the ending too much I will just say that the result is a complete let down. Exactly what you think will happen does happen. There is no heroic moment or realization of what they had done was wrong. The Villain doesn’t get his well deserves, in fact the movie pretty much ends with his getting away and the protagonists that we were asked to watch for two hours suffer somewhat undeservingly.
I think that at the heart of things that is the problem with “The Box.” Filmmaker Richard Kelly presents us with very likable people. I dare you to find someone more likable in the world then Cameron Diaz, as a matter of fact, and I have to say that she does a great job in creating this character. He introduces these lovely characters that are actually very nice people and has us get behind then only to then do something extremely horrible to them with no chance for their redemption. It was unsatisfying, which may have been Kelly’s intent. But to not have any consequences for the villain and essentially have the heroes defeated was completely anti-climatic and a really big let me down to me. Like I said, I was into this. I was ready to go on Kelly’s journey and was willing to believe whatever fantastical idea he wanted to sell me in the hopes that it would pay off in a rewarding way. I think that is the faith we put in a director. That if we go along with him on his journey that we will be paid off with a rewarding experience in the end and that is something that unfortunately is missing from this film.