The Box (2009)
By: J.R. McNamara on May 3, 2010  | 
Icon | Region A, B, C | 2.35:1, 1080p | English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 | 115 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
Screenplay: Richard Kelly
Country: USA
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Writer/Director Richard Kelly really hit the ground running with his first full length feature film Donnie Darko, a marvellous tale of a teen trapped in a redundant bubble of time. His second feature Southland Tales on the other hand was not as well received. But I can honestly say that Richard Kelly is back with this grand adaptation of Sci-fi master Richard Matheson's short story 'Button Button' titled The Box.

This is actually the third time the story has been adapted to another format. 'Button Button' was translated both into an episode of the Twilight Zone, and a radio play called 'The Chinaman Button' but this time, the original story is over within the first hour of the film, and then you settle in for some real creepy sci-fi intrigue.

The Box is the tale of the Lewis's, Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur (James Marsden) and their son Walter (Sam Oz Stone) who live in the town of Richmond, Virginia in 1976. Arthur is a NASA scientist waiting to find out if he has passed the tests to become an astronaut, for an upcoming mission to Mars, and Norma is a teacher at the local school.

Early one morning there is a knock at their door, and left on their doorstep is a box with a note in it from 'Mr Steward'. The family opens the box and find within it a strange wooden device with a glass dome and a large red button locked under the dome. The note advises the family that Mr Steward will return at 5pm that night to discuss the device with them.

Unfortunately the day doesn't pan out to well for the couple: Norma is advised that her son's tuition at the school will no longer be supplemented because of her position there as a teacher and she is humiliated into revealing a disfigurement of her foot to her class, whilst Arthur is told that he has been rejected from the space program.

That night, Mr Steward (Frank Langella), a horribly scarred man with half his face missing, appears at the door and informs Norma what the box is for and the 'deal'. Quite simply, if Norma presses the button on the device, she will receive a payment of $1,000,000, but someone she doesn't know will die. Mr. Steward gives her a key to the device and a payment of $100 for just letting him into her home. The final rule is she has 24 hours to make her decision, before the box is reprogrammed and given to the next individual.

She advises Arthur of her poser, and the pair works through the ramifications of pressing the button. Their mental state, weakened from the days powerfully negative psychological events, doesn't help their thought processes at all. Finally, Norma decides to press the button, on a whim, and this sets wheels into motion, gigantic, devastating wheels that could horribly alter their future, and the future of mankind itself.

The real let down on this film is its pacing. Feeling like a movie in three parts, it almost seems to stop, and then restart, but luckily the performances of the cast are so good that it is a mild nitpick, and to be quite honest it's not a problem I would have a solution for. For Kelly's vision of Matheson's story to go where it did, it really did need to be in parts, but the ending of Matheson's 'Button Button' is such a great ending, that the rest feels as though it could be superfluous. I actually wish I wasn't familiar with Matheson's story before seeing it as I imagine it would not have felt so segmented.

I am being quite unfair with this issue as it is a solid film, with spectacular performances by the entire cast, and Kelly shows his abilities as a director to be that of a high standard. Cameron Diaz proves she is so much more than The Mask and Charlie's Angels type roles, and has developed an acting maturity that is a solid foundation for any film she is in. James Marsden had to lift his game from the X-Men/Hairspray (the musical) roles to meet her level, and does so, though a small dusting of grey in his hair didn't quite age him as much as it possibly could, and Diaz's character seemed slightly older. Frank Langella is Frank Langella, and hits a six every time he opens his mouth and lets that baritone voice crawl up your backbone and onto the hackles of your neck.

In essence, The Box oozes creepiness from its pores for the entire length of the film and really strikes at the human race's own selfishness and complete lack of altruistic sensibilities, posing the question: should we be punished for it?
The joys of Blu-ray strikes again and we are presented with a beautifully lush 2.40:1 1080p image.
A truly excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio presentation on this disc.
Extra Features
First up this disc has a fairly comprehensive audio commentary performed by Richard Kelly, and he discusses many aspects of the film. Very informative.

Grounded in Reality sees Richard Kelly explain that the main characters of Norma and Arthur are based on his very own parents. Their occupations, the types of people they are and even his mother's disability are explored, with interviews with both Lane Kelly, his father and Ennis Kelly, his mother. This is a surprisingly sweet extra that possibly shouldn't have a place on an odd sci-fi films disc, but I am glad it is here.

Richard Matheson: In His Own Words is a great conversation with both Richard Kelly and author of the original short story Richard Matheson. Matheson opens up about his career writing short stories and novels, and for TV and cinema. Of course he discusses the origins of the short story 'Button Button' on which the Box is based. This interview reveals him to be an intelligent, humble man, who at 80 odd, still retains a wry wit.

Music Video Prequels gives us the opportunity to listen to some of the films soundtrack over a selection of scene set-ups.

Visual Effects revealed shows us how the effects of the water coffins, Mister Steward's face and the 70s Richmond, Virginia were executed using CGI.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The Box is a solid film with some fine acting, and some replay value as well. This is great company for Kelly's' Donnie Darko and is presented beautifully on this Blu-ray disc. This isn't a film that you will just watch and go 'yeah, it was good', and forget about it. It poses questions about one's own morals and standards and is a great doorway into many fevered discussions, not just about cinema, but also about our place in the universe.

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