Rainy Day Movie is a feature here on Living With a Nerd that provides short insights into movies and series that you should save for a rainy day. In this edition of Rainy Day Movie, we take a look at The Box, a suspenseful film with a sci-fi bent.
Note: Spoiler-free review!
Based on a short story called “Button, Button”, and later made into a 1980s episode of Twilight Zone, The Box is a story about…well, about a box. A mid-30’s couple receive a box with a large red button on top, covered by a glass dome. They’re visited by a man with a portion of his face missing, who informs them that if they press the button, they will be given $1 million. However, in doing so, someone they don’t know will die. The movie explores how this couple go about making their choice, and what happens as a result of their choice. The film is directed by Richard Kelly of Donne Darko fame, so expect a few surreal scenes (with increasing frequency towards the film’s satisfying conclusion).
The name of the game here is suspense; the film makers have done a great job of making sure you know these characters, identify with their situation, then slowly unravel the mystery. You very rarely know any more than the characters do, so this is your adventure as much as it is theirs. Despite a couple of stumbles, the acting and the script are quite good, and really help sell the conflict going on inside the characters’ heads. It’s refreshing to see Cameron Diaz in a serious role, and even though she goes through most of the film with her brow furrowed, her character has depth and a sense of realism about her. James Marsden plays her husband, who designs optics for NASA and is trying to become a full fledged astronaut. The two have a great onscreen presence, and their interactions with each other feel organic and natural (if not a little over-written at times). Rounding out the cast is the legendary Frank Langella as the mysterious Arlington Steward, the man who moves the box around and informs people of its function.
The way tension is slowly built up in this film is quite an accomplishment…you feel the same apprehension and curiosity as the main characters. You learn right along with them about why everything is happening, so you won’t find yourself in the annoying position of yelling at the screen. For pacing reasons, it would be nice if 15 minutes were lopped off, but almost every scene in this movie is necessary for the desired effect, whether it be identifying with the main characters or understanding the wider implications of the storyline.
The Box is an example of minimalism at its best. There aren’t any crazy action sequences, there isn’t a lot of violence or foul language, and there aren’t any wild, in your face explanations. Everything just slowly opens up and becomes visible, allowing it to have its full effect on you. The ending is also unique, as it wraps up the storyline perfectly while still leaving some details open to interpretation.
There isn’t much more I can say about this film, at least not without ruining it for you. I highly suggest you watch it as soon as you can, preferably with another person so you can discuss it.