Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Box

"Your house is a box which you live in. The car that you drove to work is a box, on wheels. When you return home from work you sit in front of a box with moving images. You watch until the mind and soul rots and the box that is your body deteriorates, when finally you are placed into the ultimate box... to rest under the soil and earth."

Written & Directed by: Richard Kelly

Starring: James Marsden, Cameron Diaz, Frank Langella

Rating: 9/10

The Box has a very simple premise. A young, financially challenged couple (Marsden and Diaz) are given a box. Inside the box there is a button. They are informed that if they push the button they will receive a payment of one million dollars and somebody, somewhere whom they don’t know will die. Would you push the button? That’s the question asked in the film and from the moment they do (not a spoiler, this happens early on) Kelly creates a world in which they pay for their moral slip in the most hellish way imaginable.

Despite the simple premise, this is by no means a simple film. The story begins to take a bizarre turn as soon as the button is pushed. The couple begin to encounter zombie-like “employees” of Frank Langella’s infinitely cool proposition-maker Arlington Steward and they become embroiled in a huge conspiracy which reaches beyond NASA and the NSA, encompassing the supernatural, the philosophical and the spiritual.

This film contains about as much science fiction as Kelly debut effort Donnie Darko. It gives us just enough explanation to satisfy that they know what they’re talking about, but never gets bogged down in explaining every detail. This is one of the best, or worst aspects of the film depending on your own personal taste. Kelly’s script is airtight. It is clear that a lot of thought and hard work went into it. Packed with philosophical and moral weight, the script gives clues aplenty to the point of the film. I suppose the easiest reading of the film is to say that the couple’s moral failure led them straight to hell. A hell that looked and felt like reality.

Another thing to admire about The Box is the attention to production design. It is easy to forget that you’re watching a modern film. The colours, the costume, the set design, the texture, it all makes you feel like you’re watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The China Syndrome. As the film progresses and the situation becomes more dire, the palette of autumnal reds and greens fade to stark silver and blues. This attention to detail is admirable and really makes an argument for Richard Kelly’s competence as a director.

The Box might not be everyone’s cup of tea, often taking the audience to a level of discomfort usually reserved for when Lost starts to get so crazy even the most avid followers are unsure of how they feel anymore. However, apart from the plot, there is plenty to like about the film. James Marsden, the most underappreciated actor in Hollywood, gives a brilliant performance as the super-smart, sympathetic, Arthur. Cameron Diaz excels in a rare role where she actually acts. However, Frank Langella’s creepy Arlington Steward who arrives on the couple’s doorstep with only half a face, is an intriguing, frightening villain and steals the show from every other character. The other scene-stealer is the incredible score which adds infinite depth to the film written and performed by Canadian indie band Arcade Fire.

One of my favourites of the year and although it is sure to divide audiences with its complex, often insane plot, there is plenty more to admire than its trippy storytelling. Check it out, but take my advice; don’t get bogged down in figuring it all out, just roll with it and allow yourself to enjoy everything it has to offer.

- Charlene Lydon

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