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Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009

The Box

Ambitious Psycho Thriller

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Writer-director Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko, Southland Tales) isn’t one to coddle his audience. He makes the movies that he wants to make and it’s our job to figure them out. The Box is no different. It’s an ambitious, sometimes confusing, psychological thriller, with a fable-like premise that explores, among other things, the moral ineptitude of human beings.

It’s 1976 and a package is dropped on the doorstep of Virginia suburbanites Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (James Marsden), a married couple facing financial difficulty regarding the education of their son, Walter (Sam Oz Stone). Norma later receives a visit from the foreboding Mr. Steward (Frank Langella), who calmly explains the proposition on behalf of his elusive employer. If the Lewis’ decide to push the button, they will receive a million dollars, but someone they don’t know will die.

Norma and Arthur both struggle to make a decision. They first approach the box with apprehension, but soon begin rationalizing why they should or should not take the money. Norma caves and you have your movie. As you would expect, the deal they make with Mr. Steward is not all that simple, and although Norma and Arthur are fundamentally good people, they must endure the consequences of their actions, which come in the form of zombie-like citizenry, encounters with supernatural forces and an even greater moral dilemma.

With such complex themes, the film is bound to get confusing, but it’s never boring. Kelly often struggles between spending too much time focused on obvious concepts, while not allowing other themes adequate time to develop. He knows what he wants to say, but audiences may not necessarily follow.