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. OMG! I just came back from watching this!
    I sooo got lost as well! The whole NASA and NAS thing was
    stupid! What was with the MARS project?!
    I give it to the two main actors on their acting, big fan of Cameron Diaz, but I could not wait to get out of the movies!
    Waste of $8.50!
    Worst Movie of the year?!
    Harsh but true!

  2. How important was the text at the beginning of the movie, which I think should have been narrated, since it was taken down fairly quickly.

    As far as spoiling the movie, I don’t see how a review could be made without pointing out parts of the film.
    If not, all a review would be is a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”. The plot and the reasons a “reviewer” might like it or not must be revealed to a certain extent.

    That said,
    The movie was horrible, confusing, and not well-developed from scene to scene. Diaz should stick to sexy comedies, but of course she can’t do that forever as she gets older.

    I also noticed that only women pushed the buttons. this is a testimony of our culture. Men want money (breadwinner)… Women need it (security), hence they would (or may) be more anxious to do what it takes to acquire it.

    Of course there also would NOT have been a movie had they been told the rest of the consequences for pushing it. Clearly they were not given full disclosure at that point. There obviously was a punishment well-beyond someone they didn’t know having to die, in exchange.

  3. You just proved throughout your entire review that you didn’t understand this film at all. its modernly complex and relevant and so beautiful. it is layered with meanings and reasonings of our humanity and our existence, with hitchcockian suspense and has a old fashioned classic sci fi thriller look and feel. and it is clearly too smart for you. try not review films unless you really understand them.

  4. @vendrell88

    Well it seems that most people are in agreement with me.

    I guess we’re all too stupid to appreciate what a gem it is.


  5. Hm, someone doesn’t like it so that means they must be too dumb to understand it… heard that argument before… :-P

  6. If, by chance, the comment left by vendrell was directed at me…
    I submit, that I didn’t/don’t understand or enjoy the film very much. It left a hollow lost feeling at the close, and the only films that can get away with that are epic “best film” oscar candidates. I doubt this qualifies.

    I simply think it could have been worlds better than it was. But, not understanding a film has Nothing to do with intelligence. I simply didn’t appreciate what the “director” attempted to convey in this movie, and more importantly, how he attempted it. It bounced around too much and the “fantasy/science-fiction” aspect of this movie was so far from believable that I almost walked out before the finish.
    I am not a movie critic, so my words will go mostly unnoticed… and that’s ok.

    This was JMHO.. and that’s all it was.
    Good day.

  7. One thing that was ok about the movie was the sound. For those who may buy/rent the DVD, it has a lot of dynamic range and will test a good home-theater system.

  8. I saw this movie when it came out, and I must admit I was quiiite disappointed.
    I absolutely LOVE Donnie Darko.
    It’s one of my favorites, and I was definitely hoping this one would have the same appeal.

    One thing that really bothered me about this movie was the music. It seemed like most times it was eiher too loud or just didn’t fit with the moment. I don’t know..
    That’s another thing that surprised me about this movie ’cause the music for D.D. was perfecttt

    I thought the short segment of music during the part where Diaz was first able to put on her heels was so pretty though. (Reminded me of D.D. hahaha)

    Sheesh, anywho.
    I dunno about this movie.
    I just felt like there wasn’t really a point to it. The plot seemed very disjointed.. annnd I left the theater with a sort of empty disappointment.

  9. Wow, I was really disappointed with the movie. The Twilight Zone version was excellent, and when I heard that there was going to be a movie, I was excited. However, I wondered what could be added to this short story to make it a two-hour feature film. Well, everything except the kitchen sink seemed to be added. As I watched the movie, I expected that at some point there would be an explanation of what was going on–and how it would all come together. Well, that never happened. What a missed opportunity!

  10. “Some SPOILERS Below”

    I never saw the original Twilight Zone episode this movie depicts.

    Simply, this wasn’t a good movie, not because it was hard to understand, but rather the methods in which the plot was laid out was choppy, non-linear, confusing, and mostly, not very realistic.

    Science Fiction is exciting when it can convey fictional events that one can be enveloped in, and made to “believe” what is happing is possible. This did none of that. Technology today offers so much more than what we were exposed to in this film. And the plot development dragged it down even further.

    Does it raise questions about our (humanity’s) ways of reasoning through certain things?, certain choices?, Yes..

    That said, that is all I can glean from my $23 in movie tix and $15 in popcorn and drinks. Certainly I can’t say it wasn’t a waste of time.

    This movie might just be the perfect choice for that fresh newly dating couple looking to discreetly make-out in the back row. Note though that the film is not compelling enough to guarantee you won’t be seen by prying, bored wayward eyes!

  11. Well, I was hoping this would be a good flick but I guess not. So let me get this straight….

    ***** SPOILERS AHEAD *****

    1. Aliens are controlling Langella’s character? So what is the intent of the aliens? If they want to wipe humanity out, seems like they would have the tech to do it efficiently

    2. Salvation? Is this sci-fi or religious?

    3. Are these aliens from Mars and since NASA is working on a Mars project, is this why the aliens are doing this?

    ***** END SPOILERS *****

    I remember reading somewhere that a Twilight Zone reboot was in the works; it would seem to me that this should have been part of that movie (a short story) instead of a full blown motion picture.

  12. I seem to be one of the few who really love this film. I agree with OGB, that maybe the reviewer couldn’t relate because he wouldn’t push the button. I thought it was an intelligently crafted and well thought-out film, with the plots ending being ambiguous on purpose. I think John “Kahless” Taylor above simply missed much of what the film was about by the questions he poses here. Watch it again, people.

  13. @Vendrell88 is exactly right! This is why the majority of movies that make the big bucks are crappy, and gems like this one, get passed up.

  14. Thanks for the positive reviews.

    I am still excited to see this one.

    Love a good discussion on here, but comments like “I was robbed of 2 hours of my life”, etc. are adding nothing to the discussion.

    I would also love a more open minded review. No offense Vic but it’s clear you can’t relate to the characters, the situation and were lost in general throughout the whole thing. Others can relate to both the characters and the situation and there might like the movie more. Not saying your opinion is wrong but a mention of the fact that a lot of ppl might feel differently based on how they perceive the chracters/story would be nice :)

    It is your site and I’m a mere bystander offering an observation, that’s all …

  15. @ogb

    So, one should just be positive no matter what. I don’t care what anyone says, this movie is terrible. One does feel like they lost 2 hours of their life after this mess. I like how some folks want to portray themselves as highbrow smart folks who get this junk while the rest of us are just dummies. The fact is that if a movie is hated by at least 85% (being generous) of those that see it then it must be flawed in some respect. I’m sure it is possible for people to like something that the vast majority absolutely hates. Its not a movie for the masses which it does not have to be. Go ahead and see it and I hope you are one of the folks who can enjoy it.

  16. I never said “DON”T HATE IT” or “LIKE IT NO MATTER WHAT”. Just put it in perspective when telling other people about the movie. I get it, you hate it. But should you tell other people that have completely different opinions, likes/dislikes, sense of humor, etc. that they shouldn’t see the movie? NO!

    Not singling you out or anything, I just don’t think it’s right for someone to tell a complete stranger “DON”T SEE THIS MOVIE” or “I CAN”T BELIEVE MOVIES LIKE THIS GET MADE”. For all you know, that stranger loves/will love the movie. And almost no one’s opinion is above someone else’s.

    I know I’m going deep into the subject but hopefully you know what I’m getting at.

  17. @ogb

    Correct, and I did not say you had to hate it. I just said don’t tell others how they should express their dislike for it. Which you just did again. You are an adult, so it should not matter what others say if you want to go see it and evaluate for yourself. If I can help others from wasting there time if they are willing to trust me instead of finding out for themselves then that’s my/their business. I think people who would like this silly movie would not be discouraged by a little negative review. Other people get great insight in the amount of ‘honest’ tell it like it is negative comments and that is fine for them and they are glad they are forewarned. As long as your comments are true to your feelings others can get insight as to whether they may like the movie.

  18. OK, it’s not because I couldn’t relate to the characters – it’s a Rube Goldberg contraption of a movie.


  19. I see where you’re coming from but I think it’s absolutely necessary to word your opinions in a way that takes other people’s views into consideration if you’re expressing your opinion on a public forum. That’s just me.

    The whole “I help others” thing doesn’t seem right to me. You might be discouraging someone from seeing or instilling low expectations to people that might actually enjoy the movie otherwise.

    Again, this is a fine line and by no means am I saying don’t express your opinion. Just saying respect other people and the fact that what doesn’t/does work for you does/doesn’t work for them.

    I love honest reviews about movies, that’s why I come here. But I believe it’s irresponsible to say things like “WASTE OF TIME” , “SHOULDN”T HAVE BEEN MADE”, “WHO FINANCES THIS”, etc.

  20. @ogb

    OK, I can buy that but its up to each of us to understand that someone saying “don’t go see this movie” is just a way of expressing displeasure. If you see the phrase over and over again however it might be a good indicator. No, we don’t really want to discourage someone from perhaps missing the best experience of their life but this is a site where folks come to read reviews and join in with their honest feelings. I presume that everyone is mature enough to realize that the only way you know whether you like the film is to go see it yourself despite what others say.

  21. Daniel

    You are a wise man and glad we’re on the same page. You’re absolutely right, see the movie for yourselves and judge it then. But a few comments/reviews before seeing it never hurt as long as you understand that they’re opinions of others and not yours.

  22. @ Vic, re: The Rube Goldberg simile- Check the author credits and see if the script was done by anyone named “Wylie Kai-Otee” (Say it out loud to get the reference)

  23. This movie was a WASTE OF TIME.

    These are “contextual” statements that are taken out of “context”. I don’t understand why anyone who doesn’t want to be “spoiled” reads any movie review. If you don’t want others’ advice or input regarding a certain movie, simply GO to the movie and don’t read reviews.


  24. i’d rate this movie low too. I found it quite confusing and didn’t make much sense at all. I thought at first that it was going to be good, but then as it went on, i couldn’t keep up with it and what was going on. I dunno it was okay i guess, but definatly not as satified as i wanted to be.

  25. I’ve read some of the reviews and comments and it seems there wasn’t really anyone who really understood what this movie was all about!

    Some have a good idea though.
    I’ll try to explain it myself if you don’t mind.

    Arlington Steward died when they had just received messages from the probes on mars. But he ressurected, meaning an alien entity (energy / higher dimensional being) took control of his body. This alien came from mars. The purpose of this movie is to make people aware of extraterrestrial life. However not exactly life as we know it. This alien has telepathical and much more mysterious powers not common to human beings.

    That’s why they mention magic instead of technology. The aliens put humans to the test. Just to see if they can sacrifice their own needs for saving another human being. As in taking care of each other instead of being selfish.

    We are at a stage where we need to be more loving and caring with each other instead of chasing money and power at the cost of other lives.

    At the end of the movie it seems we’ve failed the test and the test will continue untill the day we learn to truely love each other. Then maybe we will be able to have openly contact with extraterrestrial life. Because their purpose in life is love.

    We still have much to learn.

  26. Certain days will live in infamy: Dec 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor.
    Nov. 22, 1963 – JFK assassination. Sep 11, 2001 – The Twin Towers…and Nov 27, 2009 – the day watched “The Box.”

  27. To Yahia, perhaps your interpretation of the movie is correct. Whether it is or not does not make up for the fact this this is a bad film. If the average viewer can’t make heads or tails out of a film what good is it?

  28. I loved Donnie Darko but I hate this film and all the above comments I am not allowed to say on here I have already said whilst I was still in the movie theatre! Nobody in the theatre liked or appreciated this film. When people laugh at a film which is not meant to be amusing it’s a good sign that it is a complete turkey. Yes it was meant to have a retro feel but frankly this was such low quality that it would have been panned if shown in 1976. I agree that there are many big budget tripe fests getting into the cinemas but that does not excuse how bad this film is – it started out well with the scene in the classroom which was quite “Donnie” but sadly dissolved into meaningless twaddle. This is just my opinion and if you love this film then fine I am happy for you but you will be in a minority – deal with it!