The Box Review

Published 5 years ago by , Updated November 6th, 2009 at 10:33 pm,

Short Version: Do yourself a favor and find the original 30 minute Twilight Zone episode of The Box and watch that instead.

the box review The Box Review
Screen Rant reviews The Box

Well this is going to be a short review because I don’t want to spend any more time on this movie than I have to. The Box is based on Button, Button – a very short story written by Richard Matheson that was used for an old episode of the classic TV series The Twilight Zone. It was written and directed by Richard Kelly, the man behind the cult classic Donnie Darko and the poorly received Southland Tales.

BTW, personally I think it’s obvious, but this review does tell you whether or not they push the button.

The film takes place in 1976, around the time we started sending probes to Mars. This is the (very thin) reason the film takes place back then – it could have easily taken place today, but then the pacing of the film might not have made as much sense (I’ll get to that later). Cameron Diaz and James Marsden star as a mid-30s couple living in Virginia. He works at Nasa as an optical engineer but has aspirations to be a space shuttle astronaut, she works as a teacher at a private school at which their son attends. They’re living paycheck to paycheck and money is tight (and despite seeming to be a bright guy, mid-30s Marsden is driving a Corvette despite their financial status).

They receive a package wrapped in plain brown paper early one morning: A black box with a glass dome covering a red button. Very simple, but well-crafted. It is locked, and later that day the mysterious Arlington Steward (the ever sophisticated Frank Langella) arrives with a key to the box, a briefcase with one million dollars and half his face CGI’d away and scarred in a terrible burn injury. He makes the offer: Press the button and somewhere, someone you do not know will die, but you will then receive one million dollars tax free.

Decisions, decisions.

Well a couple of things have coincidentally (or, not so much)  just happened to cause the financial noose to tighten a bit more, making the deal tempting them (to the wife in particular). They vacillate between calling the police (telling anyone and the deal will be off), just returning the box, and assuming that even if the guy IS crazy, maybe they can get the money. After all, the person killed “might be some murderer on death row.”

Frankly, maybe it’s just me (and I really hope it’s NOT), but the movie lost me here. If someone showed up at your door and made this offer, with the guarantee that SOMEONE WOULD DIE if you pushed the button, would you? I sure as hell wouldn’t, even for a million dollars.

The husband does decide to open the box, not knowing what to find, but it’s just empty – not even a transmitter to notify anyone if the button had been pushed. Still, he is leery. In the end, the wife pushes the button, Steward arrives with the money, and assures them that the box will be given to someone they do not know.

Didn’t see THAT one coming.

Of course writer/director Richard Kelly realizes this, and in order to keep the movie *cough* interesting *cough* puts in a ton of oddities that could’ve drawn you in with the mystery, but instead just get annoying as they continue to pile on top of each other. In the end what made for a great, short morality tale is made so convoluted by trying to stretch it out into a two hour movie and give explanation to the hows and the whys that you’ll be dying to be done with the movie and get out of the theater.

I found it interesting that it was set in the 70s because the pacing of the film reminded me of movies from that time period. Looking back, a lot of the movies made then seem agonizingly slow in moving the story along, and that’s the case here. In the last 30 minutes or so it feels so completely disjointed, jumping helter-skelter from scene to scene that you’ll wonder what the editor and director were thinking.

I’ll give it two stars for concept and Frank Langella, but that’s being generous – I wouldn’t even call this a rental.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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  1. to the p[eople who said this film made no sence just are not smart enough to understand it. it makes perfect sence and is a chain reaction. and demonstrates many morals and the brutality of human nature. it states that human kinda is so greedy and focused on making themselves happy that the human race has no chance of survival like this. when you pushed the button someone you dont know is killed, and the the offer is givin to someone else. who you do not know. mean your the next one to die if infact the next money grubbing people press the button. and the chain continues tearing apart humanity one by one untill the button is not longer pressed by the new victtoms . thus being if you had the chance to press it for a life times fortune you would think hey, someone dies who i do not know wont effect anyone especially me. but in the long run it effects the whole human species. the only difference is his wife really got through to the guy but she still had to die bc she caused the death of the previous button pushers, but to show his appreciation for her true love and gratfullness her family is now to be taken care of, while in the mean time she is sent to “the after life” with all the other people who pressed the button. the biggest moral i could get from this film is to not fix something that isnt broken. there family was well off even if he was rejected from nasa he could of got snother job and lived happily with his family, taking the million dollars was not a life or death for them they did not need it. but took it out of greed and temptation, as well as disbelief it was real at all. but really its showing you to be happy for what you have, not what you could have. (the money). any way i enjoyed the movie and that was just some clarification for people who said it didnt make sence. it was not a realistic story line but hey, its a movie , it makes you think twice about taking advantage of opertunity.

    • First, and I don’t usually call people out on this, but you can not claim you understood the movie because you are smarter than some people and then spell sense with a ‘c’. Second, if it were just a morality play you would be right, but Kelly finds the need to add a sci-fi element as well as a mystery element. If he would have refrained from explaining where Steward got his powers and left that unknown to the viewers in order to focus solely on the morality, the movie would have been bearable if not impressive. But he didn’t and it wasn’t

    • duh i can interperate movies n junk… dooshbag

  2. The “only women pushing the button” detail, I think, can be explained by assuming that the writer may have had the biblical story of Adam and Eve in mind. Eve was tempted by the devil in the form of a footed serpent (The aliens/higher beings that possessed Mr. Steward). Eve at the fruit from the tree of Good and Evil to gain what falsely advertised by the Devil as unlimited power and freedom (Norma pushing the button = 1 million, but someone dies). Instead, Eve’s decision caused Gid to become angry and he allowed sin to enter the world (The end result of pushing the button means that Arthur must choose between his son and wife. In other words, the person chosen ti die that the button pushers don’t know is actually from the last family who pushed the button). Just my perspective. I do think it was Aliens and not God or “gods” that conducted the social experiment. The NASA and NSA involvement in the film leads me to belive this.

  3. A lot of you are mentioning the “peace signs” being flashed. I am thinking that those people were hinting for him to chose portal “two” when that time came.

    This is another thing that could be easily missed, and cause some people to think the movie was “stupid”.

  4. This is just one man’s opinion, I don’t claim to speak for the intelligent or dumb. Perhaps the movie was making a statement about man’s greed and lack of decent moral fibre but the manner in which the film-makers accomplished the task was excrutiatingly, mind-numbingly dreadful. A mish-mash of ideas sprayed around willy-nilly like a mad woman’s diarrheauntil it stank. It just became sillier and sillier. Disappointing, because the overall idea had promise and the movie started out interestingly enough. Would I watch it again? Not for a million bucks. I’d kill someone first.

    • diarrhea? really? very intelligent. I can see why the movie went completely over your head. And kill someone? Darling you just proved why the movie made SO much damn sense.
      By the way culture would not hurt you. Here’s a free tip: film is art. Abstract is a genre. The sporadic nature of directing emulated the confusion the couple were experiencing. To put it to you more simply: movie different to make man think. Man think and reflect. Man evolve.

    • lol that’s funny.

      • i appreciate your humor Ralph. Cracked me up. Jovie, I’m not sure you caught the humor.

  5. From the start I know something was worng with the set up of the ppl in the move, it just seem off. I think everyone miss the greater point, pushing the button, is only step one,
    1. only couples under 35 WITH ONE kid are tested
    2. females push the button
    3. both have to make a choice, the choice always has to do with the kid
    4. males kill females
    5. ones left alive work for the aliens
    6. the test determines the survial of mankind

  6. @rob: you say the movie makes perfect “sence” (actually spelled “sense”), and say you’ll explain the movie. You claim to be smarter than most. And yet, you missed all the loose ends others are complaining about. This makes me think it only makes “sence” to those who are smart enough to follow the basic story, but not observant enough to notice all the details.

    Here are some loose threads, and I honestly welcome any answers:

    1. They make a big deal about the teenager in class who asked about the wife’s foot. They kept the camera on him like he was somebody special, but he wasn’t. And why did she show him, instead of telling him it was none of his business? And why was he at the wedding when NEITHER the bride nor groom had any prior relationship, or even knew who he was?

    2. The “water coffins” where he has to choose, and only the right choice saves him from “eternal damnation”. They’re all the same. How does he choose? Two teenage jerks waved peace signs at him. So hollywood has perverted God and the aferlife into what – a 1 out of 3 crap shoot? It made no sense – there was no moral basis for choosing one over another.

    3. How was killing the wife/mother at the end “altruistic”? Taking a life vs. reversing a handicap…that your captors have caused. A handicap does not equal a life. Not to mention, you took the kid’s mother away, and he has to live with knowing his father killed her. I don’t even think *he’s* better off. So given the ambiguity, THIS is the test for altruism?

    4. Why were they lining people up and pushing them through the light? Were these test passers, test failers? Was there just a giant jet engine on the other side, like a Fargo wood-chipper? We don’t know.

    5. The frantic woman who gave the wife the note in the store: she had *none* of the characteristics of the other “zombies”. At that point, before the aliens were revealed, I thought a friend had gotten hold of the “mind control” technology and sent her a message as quick as they could. So who sent it, and why?

    6. The friend that had shot his wife first – he said “it’s too late to save me, but you can save yourself.” How? Since he’d been through the whole song and dance, he should have either gotten the “bigger picture” and been a team player, or should have known there was no way to “save” the other family. If he felt forced to shoot his wife but never bought into the contrived salvation, that makes him the only character in this movie that actually had their head on straight.

    Please, I would LOVE some answers. And to the bleeding hearts, crying about how bats are more altruistic than people, you’re ridiculous. Animals protect their own immediate family/herd, and that’s just a slightly smarter form of self preservation. People routinely help those they’ve never seen or met, thousands of miles away, with taxes, charitable donations, and volunteer work, knowing it will never benefit them.

    • @Jaime – Thank you. For a minute there, after reading all the other posts…I thought I was the only who felt like that. You addressed at least 80% of my issues with this movie and at least half of the aforementioned posts.

      • Jamime – love your points on the questionable moral ‘lessons’ the movie tries to show. (taking a life vs. reversing a handicap…and God’s ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ 3 choice option). I didn’t buy that either…and found that as a very flawed point they were trying to make for hard ‘moral’ choices. 5 & 6 – those are my main questions too.! I’ll read on.

    • Jaime –

      1. I believe, like many others, that he was a child of a couple that had chosen to press the button (based on the fact that he is an employee and that the child left behind by the main couple is then taken to be an employee).
      Why didn’t she tell him to screw off? I don’t really see why she should have. Sure, it was thirty years ago and things like that may have been taken more seriously, but what better way to show a kid up than to do exactly what he asked–and come off as the better person by doing so?
      He was a waiter. This is pretty obvious… he’s in a waiter’s uniform.

      2. Since a lot of this movie has religious connotations (Adam and Eve are represented in the pressing of the button, temptation is Steward, etc), all you have to do is consider that to Richard Kelly, “god” may not be morality. Obviously, the human race is depicted as immoral (which is why they are being considered for extinction) and therefore either “god” is not of morality or we have foresaken the morality of “god”, which would both be reasoning for having a religious scene with no morality.

      3. You have a different morality than Richard Kelly. It’s not up to you to dictate how he writes his movies. Personally, I believe that the mother is highly altruistic in giving up her life. The father is as well, because he is giving up both his life by landing himself in prison and his wife, whom, all things considered, is also easily his “life”. He is in love with her in a way that makes her the center of his universe. He gave his life up twice for his son by killing his wife.

      4. As pointed out before, most of the employees seem to have been the children of couples who failed the test. They’re likely being “tested” to find out if they, as second-generation “test-takers”, will fail as well.

      5. These “employees” were all part of the test, which is made evident when he regards them as redeeming themselves by challenging him and his test. Obviously, she is sent by Steward to test the family.

      6. Is Richard Kelly really supposed to spoon-feed you the possibilities of redemption? Only a poor filmmaker would just hand you the answer on a silver platter. Do some work and figure out your own morality. Movies–good movies, at least, and you don’t seem to have seen many–are meant to challenge you, not coddle you.

      Also — how many taxpayers do you know that DON’T complain or grumble? How many people do you know contribe to charities secretly, without the benefit of feeling good about themselves and being able to brag about their donations? How many volunteers do it out of the kindness of their heart and not a sense of obligation or, like charity, for the benefit of saying “Hey, look at how kind I am”?
      We’re a pretty messed up race. We don’t gave half a damn about each other.

      Whoops, I just spoon fed you the point of the movie.

      • For preaching about how people don’t care about one another, your email response to Jaime was highly judgmental, rude, and disrespectful. Hmmm, just a thought, you bozo.

    • You are my hero Jaime. I love how these people claim to be “intelligent” because they get the point of the movie. A deaf, blind kid could understand that! My opinion (and apparently that of a few others) is that the way they portrayed that message sucked. The movie sucked. The idea and the morals were great. And what about you people saying “Who do you know that doesn’t give charity to feel good about themselves?” Well hell, who gives charity and then feels BAD about it? Get over yourselved.

  7. really terrible movie. Can someone tell Please me what the hell is up with the portals scene?

    my best guess is that it was to show him theres an afterlife so he would follow through with killing his wife. But why the hell would they give him a choice of three different portals? what is the point of this in relation to the plot?…. then out of nowhere he’s hovering over his wife in the same water bubble….I mean come on. This along with many other scenes seemed to be just thrown into the plot to deliberately create confusion…which is fine if it all leads to somewhere or has some relevence to the story.This did not. Many scenes seemed to be plucked straight out of thin air, or someones arse.

    • I have watched this movie twice with my wife The movie is complete non sense.There are so many gaps in storyline, and unanswered questions its almost like a mad man has produced a film on his own rambling thoughts.From what I do understand from the movie is that arlington steward was struck by lightning that what caused his scarring on the face. But he says that he can now communicate with the people who control the lightning. Who the hell are the people that control the lightning what are they.The guy the was on the roof top in the movie dicussing what happened to arlington steward about when he was struck by lightning and what nasa and the nsa did with him and they ran test on steward and found out his body heals at a 100% percent rate. This guy asked steward the question who are the people that control the lightning but he says something about he likes secrets or mystery or something like that and doesn’t tell him.The movie obviously is about aliens because they are talking about transmitting signals to mars.But there is alot of religion in the storyline.Its really hard to say what is really going on with this movie. The husband takes the box apart and there is no transmitter or any type of device to notify arlington steward but when they pressed the button he shows up how the hell would he know they pushed the button if there was no mechanism in the box I am guessing that he uses the “zombies” to watch there families in the windows or he controls there bodies and uses the people to watch there family 24/7. Alot of people have asked some really good questions like “JAMIE”.But no body can seem to really answer of these questions instead you take scenes from the movies and tell us what happened in the scene and pretend you have answered the question we have already seen the movie we do not need the movie repeated just answer the questions we have spread out for you. I could ask some many questions about this movie I could be qriting all day long. Why were they at a motel putting the children in the water is that another portal where does the portal go who is on the other side what is on there other side. Why were all the people in the motel rooms looking at the baby sitter like she was a trader why was her motel room full of maps or the stars and astrology ect……. when she was jumping in and out of conscience does that mean that arlington steward was losing control on his “zombies’ It seemed like random people would try to help them but they were being heard so they couldn’t say too much or he would know. The whole thing someone said about them pushing the button and it going to continue and continue until there is no one left to push the button then the world end is completely wrong in my theory. Because if you watch the movie very carfully arlington steward tells that guy that was on the roof top I think he was from nasa tells him that they are conducting a test on humanity and if enough people do not push the button that the world can be saved he keeps refereing to his employer and employees so he has a boss and he is a boss. He also said when the husband put a gun to his head that if he is killed he will just be replaced and he will go to prison for the murder of the man arlington steward was before he became alrington steward. So as you can see that is not even breaking the ice wih how many questions I could have asked about this movie.People that do plan to answer these questions or attempt to answer these questions please do no repeat the movie to me I have seen the movie once and do not need to know it again give details to the movie scenes and try to stay on point with are questions all this moral of the story about greed ok we get this blah blah blah man kind is greedy who the hell are they to control what we do we are free people no alien will walk the earth and control what we do I think we would drop an Atomi bomb on them or are selfs before we became cattle to some stupid aliens from mars that can’t even show there true form they seem more like body snatchers and it all seems like a big giant game to them like they destroy plants for fun or decide the fate of a planet by a box.If you rember the man from nasa asked steward why is he using a box and he says why not a box are cars are wheels on a box we watch a box are televisions are homes are a box what does that mean do just cause the shape of objects that we create means we are limited to creations or are technolgy is no where near there level of thinking what do they live in you know.And rember when the army and the nasa guys are standing out in front of the airport hanger milatry compond whatever it is when the husband comes out he has to be pratically carried out of there what happened to him in there what did the nasa guy mean that what ever happens to him will have greater results for the the end after he shoots in wife the police have him in hand cuffs they hand him over to the guys in the trench coats who drive the black car where do they take him its obviously not jail or prison because he wasn’t handcuffed in the black car and the nasa guy seemed like he wasn’t even being controlled like he was trying to help the alien plans come through but try to protect the earth as we’ll. I don’t know I am done If i keep going I will become like this movie rambling non sense hope someone can answer these questions thanks

  8. @jaime, I choose to agree with you.

    I have no idea who was in the window at the end of the movie, with Walter, and anyone that claims it’s an intelligence thing, it’s all just speculation. I’ll stick with “Little Nicky” so at least I know why I hated the movie!

  9. Looks like there is alot of film left on the floor after editing or after the final cut.

    I hope it was digital and saved alot of trees.

  10. I enjoyed the movie but I also enjoy the old black and white twilight zones.

  11. To the educated and non-educated people of this debate, there are many opinions surrounding this topic of what the film actually represented… My opinion of the film was that it’s a good and interesting movie. In MY opinion the actions that were made by diaz and that other fella made would not of saved the previous ‘button pushers’ as their fate was already writing for them due to the actions that they made (Pushing the button before diaz). In general it does cover certain aspects of life that we take for granted, we are never content with what we have and always want more…

  12. You know, there’s a lot of pseudo-intellectual chest-beating going on in here…

  13. But can someone explain to me the constant use of the nose bleeds? Also, the water when he picks #2 enters the water and then ends up on the bed? Also, what is with the people follwing the in the library and then al sitting there when James Marsden approaches the woman? Stuards wife is it? What does THAT have to do with anything? It doesnt even make sense to me in a case scenario or analogy form. Not even metaphorically. I will see that it is “creepy” as hell though. The music especially! The music reminded me very much of creepy music from 70′s creepfest flicks, so, so that was a great match! Them people walking rapidly in the library, following them was creepy. The guy who James Marsden yokes up at the dinner party is also creepy, that spooky eerie smile. CREEPY!

  14. I’m just now seeing this movie. First let me start off by saying I appreciate the unknown. Not frightened by it nor am I going to put any strange explanations upon what I don’t know. The deal with “The Box” is that it frankly left too much to the “imagination”. I love sci-fi and I am also into the religious-type movies. However, when they mix the two a la “Ancient Aliens” this is where they tend to lose me. You’re just subbing one “theory”–and I use that term loosely–for another. “The Fourth Kind” did the exact same thing. I get where they were trying to go, but the direction that they took to get there was quite tedious. If it’s E.T.s just friggin’ say so. Why mix one “mystery” with another.

    All in all, the movie told me something I figured out a looooong time ago. The choices you make while you are here are your own. The only threats of “damnation” or rewards of “salvation” are the simple repercussions of those choices.

    That being said, who but a selfish, immoral creep would push a button that kills someone for a million dollars? That guy could’ve taken his box and his million and hit the road.

  15. I find it funny that hardly anyone bothers to mention that this was originally a short story called ‘Button, Button’ by Richard Matheson. I think it would do everyone a world of good to read it. No aliens. No bulls**t. It’s an eleven page story written to make you think.

    Yes, the movie had a lot of extra, unnecessary add-ons, but it seems to me that the entire point of the actual story has been overlooked. And that’s why we, in here, are not film critics.

  16. its simple—-we get greedy therefore we keep pushing the buttons and in the end we all die…:)

  17. Rewatched the film again cos I’ve been into past movies lately. I would like to randomly jump in to this comment slash debate thing, here are my thoughts:

    I believe Cameron Diaz was not the best choice for the character. Her acting was not that plausible, plus.. the horrible accent, seriously! Slow pacing, I say some parts were a bit dragging. I would not say it sucked or wasted an hour and fifty-something minutes of my life ‘cos the movie just simply did not. People saying it was unrealistic, don’t watch movies then. In my opinion, it was an imaginative, well-thought-of movie. The religious and scientific references as bases for the backstory and twists were a bit confusing at first, but still, they were well-incorporated and were able retained the main message til the end. For me, it was a good movie in general.

    Yes, I would go tell people to actually watch it.. but during their free time. I do not want to be blamed for wasting their time if for them, it was not worth watching. Lol

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