I enjoyed it more the second time around when I stopped trying to tie up all the loose ends. The Box (2009) is one to sit back and enjoy being alternately dazzled and confused without worrying about arriving at absolute clarity. Surrender to its trancelike and mysterious qualities and do not concern yourself with feeling that you need to know everything. Enjoy the spell that filmmaker Richard Kelly (“Donnie Darko,” “Southland Tales”) puts on you, let it end, and be content with its ambiguity.
A secret organization with sinister but undefined motivations toys with the people of Arlington, Virginia in the year 1976. In a black coat and with a disfigured face, Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) shows up at the door of the Lewis’ family offering them a box with a glass dome that covers a big red button. Arthur and Norma Lewis (James Marsden and Cameron Diaz) have 24 hours to decide whether to push the button. If they do, they will inherit $1 million dollars tax free. But elsewhere in the world someone random will die as a result. The consolation is the victim will be someone they do not know
Reoccurring visual motifs include characters bleeding from the nose and dispossessed people frozen in stone-face. Kelly is also obsessed with gateway portals: One character must guess the gateway to “salvation” or to “eternal damnation,” echoing homage that is reminiscent to “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The imagery is often startling and dislocating, and then sometimes just nonsensically weird. Big studio movies are rarely this weird, and that could be a plus if you are attracted to strange oddities
“The Box” hits some frightening notes and further perplexes you with enigmatic symbolism. Marsden and Diaz bring the right amount of disgrace to their characterizations after they make their initial immoral decision, and suffer in their guilt. Langella performs his role with an aura of shadowy malevolence and a clout of imperialist supremacy. Arlington is a spook, a seedy businessman, a mystic, and something of a boogeyman. No need for graphic violence, with Arlington and the movie itself, you’re chilled to the bone.
On a final note, Warner Bros. made it a big deal in the first-run theatrical ads at the time that it was based on a Richard Matheson story, the famous literary writer whose adapted works include “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” “What Dreams May Come” and “I Am Legend.” But “The Box” was originally a skimpy short story that was a set-up and a punchline told in five or six pages. This is more of a work by Kelly as author with a nod to Matheson if anything.
115 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
SCI-FI / MIND-BENDER / SATURDAY NIGHT WEIRDNESS