"Frank Langella’s ghostly portrayal of ‘The Stranger’ is wonderfully eerie"
The Box follows a major philosophical debate that would probably appear on an A-Level exam paper – would you sacrifice a life for money? Set in 1976 against the backdrop of a US society driven by space exploration, Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (James Marsden), a suburban couple with a young boy, receive a simple wooden box by a stranger appearing at the door. This inconspicuous stranger promises them $1 million if the button, at the top of the box, is pressed. However, by pushing the button, another life, somewhere across the world, is sacrificed. With only 24 hours to make a decision, a search for the truth behind this mystery stranger soon reveals that much larger forces are at work.
Originally, I went into this film with mixed expectations due to the mixture of very bad reviews I had read but also high hopes after seeing Richard Kelly’s previous major film, the cult classic, Donnie Darko. I soon realised, however, that the little expectations I did have were going to be short-lived. The film is able to quickly establish the characters; a suburban family that are attempting to make ends meet financially. However the casting is all over the place; Cameron Diaz cannot pull off the Southern Housewife mould just as much as James Marsden doesn’t look old enough to portray a physician working for NASA who has a young teenage son.
Furthermore the plot itself is as bad as Diaz’s corny accent. The first half hour sets up the interesting premise, asking broad questions such as how ethical we as humans are to kill another of our species simply for affluence and prosperity. This is survival of the fittest to the extreme. However, once the decision has been made by the protagonists, the plot completely loses itself amidst alien conspiracies, walking zombies across the city and biblical allusions that Kelly attempts to make. Whilst Donnie Darko was able to combine the ambiguous with the sublime, it seems that Kelly is trying to juggle too many balls in the air, thus the ambiguity of the plot soon becomes a mess of several plotlines, none of which are really resolved by the end. The film does not provide enough rope for the audience to cling onto and so one is left just wondering what the events of the past 110 minutes actually were and why they took place. The ‘Stranger at the Door’ sets up further deals and choices for the married couple, some of which simply come out of the blue and have nothing to do with what the film is supposed to be all about; the ethics of life and death. Towards the end, the film takes a sudden religious route suggesting, in a Milton kind of way, that we are all humans with free will in a world controlled by higher forces. With strange water gateways and nose-bleeding spies, it makes me wonder if even Cameron Diaz was thinking what the hell she was doing at one point.
However, it is not all too bad. Frank Langella’s ghostly portrayal of ‘The Stranger’ is wonderfully eerie and his presence on the screen is always a treat for the eye, drawing the audience into further mystery. Also, Sam Oz Stone, as the young Walter Lewis, is someone to watch out for; his great talent exemplified as he gets more screen time as the movie goes on. The last 10 minutes, without giving anything away, seems to redeem the film slightly but the poor 100 minutes before that cannot do anything to save it.
Some may argue that to understand The Box, one has to ‘think outside the box’, but the film loses itself in too many questions and not enough answers to even give the audience a glimpse of what Kelly was thinking when this movie was being made. It is a shame, considering that on paper this film sounded very promising. Instead, what is achieved is a mess that really should have been left in ‘The Box’ of the editing floor.