The Films of Richard Kelly
The Box (November 27/09)
Based on a short story by Richard Matheson, The Box details the chaos that ensues after suburban couple Arthur (James Marsden) and Norma (Cameron Diaz) are visited by a mysterious man (Frank Langella's Arlington Steward) who claims that they will receive a million dollars if they press a simple red button - with the catch being that pushing the button will result in the death of a total stranger. There's little doubt that The Box fares best in its relatively subdued first half, as writer/director Richard Kelly effectively evokes the feel of a '70s paranoia thriller by stressing images and sequences of an increasingly unsettling nature. The deliberate pace and lush visuals prove instrumental in cultivating an atmosphere of palpable unease, and - armed with terrific performances from the stars and the supporting cast (which includes familiar faces like James Rebhorn, Celia Weston, and Holmes Osborne) - The Box effortlessly establishes itself as an irresistibly compelling thriller that certainly lives up to the promise of its inherently fascinating premise. It's only as Kelly places a slow-but-steady emphasis on head-scratching, downright baffling elements that one's interest begins to wane, with the progressively grandiose storyline - although impressive in its ambition - ultimately wreaking havoc on the film's momentum and ensuring that certain revelations near the conclusion are drained of their emotional impact (ie the almost aggressively inscrutable atmosphere effectively prevents the viewer from connecting to the central characters' perilous plight). The Box, despite its various faults, nevertheless falls right in line with Kelly's consistently audacious body of work, yet it's just as clear that the filmmaker's swing-for-the-fences modus operandi would've benefited substantially from a more coherent narrative.