Monday, 14 December 2009

The Box

Few films in 2009 come as bonkers as The Box. Imagine Aliens meets NASA meets The X Files meets Lost meets Dr Who meets The Twilight Zone...and you're only halfway to discovering how ridiculous Richard Kelly's film is. Oh, and there's also a pack of Body Snatchers knock-offs who stare at our lead characters in a creepy way for no reason.

Said leads are Cameron Diaz (miscast) and James Marsden (bland) as supposedly hard-done-by 70s couple Norma and Arthur. She's a teacher; he works at NASA and judging by their spacious (if garishly decorated home), they've got to be on the breadline. When Norma loses a research grant (or something) and Arthur loses an astronaut grant (or something), things look desperate...until typically sinister Frank Langella turns up.

His Arlington Steward has a proposal: if they push the button on the box he left on their doorstep, they will receive $1 million in 24 hours but someone they don't know will die. Clearly not in-tune with our recession-hit times, Kelly's film has Norma and Arthur debate in tedious fashion rather than just press the thing instantly. You can practically see the wizard behind the curtain cranking the (deus-ex)-machina.

That is until one reaches the halfway point and the film suddenly goes completely off its rocker. When the button is finally pressed, it seems to open a rift in the space-time continuum: a creepy man appears outside Norma's house; their possessed baby-sitter babbles about a 'white light'; Steward appears randomly presiding over a hanger big enough to house the Starship Enterprise; and everyone suffers inexplicable nosebleeds.

Like a car-wreck though, the film itself is possessed by a quality that demands one keeps watching. After an admittedly intriguing and creepy set-up, it's hard to know whether Kelly was directing (or editing) with a straight face. Post-production problems? Undoubtedly. It can't be a coincidence that the film has taken 18 months to see the light of day. Whereas his debut Donnie Darko was infused with a darkly beautiful sensibility in spite of its confusing narrative, this has no sensibility at all. It's just a mess. Forget trying to think outside The Box; just thinking inside it will result in nothing but misery.

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