The Box

As in 'Donnie Darko,' director Richard Kelly has a knack for creating ominous, foreboding moods. But to what end? This movie isn’t scary, it’s just annoying.

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Nov. 10, 2009

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If an elegantly dressed Frank Langella turned up on your doorstep, missing half of his face, would you really let him in the house? That’s only the beginning of the questions one asks after enduring The Box, Donnie Darko writer-director Richard Kelly’s equally incoherent follow-up to his spectacularly terrible 2006 film Southland Tales.

Based on a Richard Matheson short story that was adapted into a memorable Twilight Zone episode in the 1980s, The Box has a terrific premise. (Step one, cut a hole in the box. No wait, that’s something else.) A mysterious stranger shows up with what looks like a game show buzzer. If you push the button you receive a million dollars in cash, but somebody you don’t know dies. Do you push the button and take the money? Everybody dies, right? And it’s not like you know the person.

Cameron Diaz and James Marsden try on a couple of hilarious Southern accents as a struggling married couple presented with this dilemma by a disfigured, even creepier than usual Frank Langella. It’s a simple question of morality, but alas Richard Kelly doesn’t believe in simplicity, and his cardboard characters don’t seem to wrestle much with the ethics. Always taking the path of most resistance on the way to his stories’ unwieldy endings, Kelly stretches a perfectly good 22-minute television episode out to two hours with an insane barrage of red herrings and metaphysical sci-fi mumbo jumbo. Much as his dreadful director’s cut undid Donnie Darko’s crucial sense of mystery, Kelly tries and tries to explain the secrets of The Box, talking in circles, making even less sense with every revelation.

There’s much ado about the National Security Agency snooping around NASA’s new Martian radio camera. Creepy waiters suffer curious nosebleeds, and the babysitter lives at a hotel where the pool is a portal to another dimension. There’s a library full of clones with towers of water promising salvation. I believe Langella’s being controlled by a sentient bolt of lightening, and all of this has something to do with Cameron Diaz’s disfigured foot, although I still have no idea what.

As in Darko, Kelly has a knack for creating ominous, foreboding moods. But to what end? By the time The Box gets around to its preordained conclusion, we’ve been dragged around several universes worth of half-baked digressions that go nowhere. This isn’t scary, it’s just annoying. D

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1. Daniel Winer said... on Aug 12, 2010 at 01:16PM

“The Box was shockingly bad. I've seen and heard less intellectual masturbation in graduate seminars on Derrida and his bullshit disciples.The only product of this type of garbage is anger--the anger, rage, etc. felt by thinking persons who, unlike Kelly, can't earn six digits for a few months of sitting in a folding chair. What the hell's wrong with Hollywood? Seriously. We're witnessing the death throes of nepotism's artistic birth defects. What a sad, sad reality.”

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