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