The Box – Review

Every choice has a consequence…

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Director: Richard Kelly
Notable Cast: James Marsden, Cameron Diaz, Frank Langella

Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – is a term you wouldn’t think you’d hear when referring to a movie experience; but that’s likely because, with how trailers are tailored now, it’s a phrase that you unfortunately won’t know to use until after the movie is complete. The Box is guilty of this trailer tampering if you will, and ends up being a different experience than what was promised, if you take trailers at face value.

The trailer begins by showing a small family whose dreams seem to be slipping away, as the father supposedly loses his job, and their finances are so tight, his wife tells him they’re going to have to move. Nothing is going right, until a stranger shows up, with a box, offering them a chance at $1 million dollars for simply pressing a button. The catch is, if they press the button, someone, somewhere, who they don’t know, will die – they have 24 hours to decide. The trailer continues on, showing the couple unsure of what they should do, while also trying to uncover what they feel is some sort of trick. A suspenseful score kicks in, followed by quick cuts of intense scenes, and action. Basically, it feels like this’ll be a nail-biter through and through, and uses that sense to target its audience.

The problem is that the trailer is quite far off from the actual feel of the film. Sure, it sells itself, and does so in a way that’d bring in more people than it would if it showed them the actual pace of the movie; but it also allows itself to be set up for disappointment when all is said and done from the audience it falsely sold itself to.

Does that make The Box a bad movie? Not entirely. It has its moments, and if you weren’t sold by the trailer, and weren’t walking in with expectations of an intense flick, then you may walk out intrigued by what the film was trying to do.

The first thing that came to mind about halfway through the movie, knowing nothing about it walking in, was that it seemed like a big-budget Twilight Zone episode. Oddly enough, I later found out that it was indeed a Twilight Zone episode back in 1986, which was based off a short story Button, Button. Anyone who knows that show will have a better understanding of what to expect, as bizarre scenarios, characters and dialogue are commonplace, mixed in with the tale of morality that holds it all together.

The financial pressures hinted at in the trailer are never really apparent outside of Norma (Cameron Diaz) explaining to her friend after she’s laid off that things will be harder as they’re living paycheck to paycheck. This comes as somewhat of a shock to the viewer as at the start of the movie, the father, Arthur (James Marsden) rides out in a Corvette, only to be mocked by his wife that it’s a bit early for a mid-life crisis. He’s also an engineer for NASA, and while the film is set in 1976, one would think that they’d just have to learn to balance their spending a bit, with financial ruin nowhere on the near horizon. It is what it is, however, and they are chosen to be ‘tested’ by a mysterious man named Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) with the choice of pressing the button for financial gain, or not.

While the tone of the movie isn’t as tense as the trailer would like you to believe, it does have its moments, and does open a lot of questions about humanity, our selfishness, and our desire to live cohesively. Marsden does a solid job in his more hands on role of trying to discover the truth to everything while the clock ticks down, and hopefully will continue to get more recognition in the future, as his star is bright. Diaz also holds her own on her own path to find the answers, while Langella pulls off the subtle, yet creepy stranger role quite well. The 70s being used as the setting for the film works, as it’s a time when these types of stories could be told, and for some reason, seem more plausible. It also, however, has scenes that don’t seem to fit and jumps from place to place every so often without enough explanation that it may lose viewers who aren’t entirely invested into the story.

In the end, is The Box worth your time? If you’re a fan of the Twilight Zone, or morality stories, then you’ll likely find something to enjoy here. If you like to ponder various aspects of a film after viewing, then there may also be things here you’ll walk away happy with. However, if you’re looking for a nail-biter of a thrill-ride, with suspense at every corner as the trailer seemingly implies, you may leave feeling cheated, and likely confused at what exactly was trying to be done.


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