Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Box (2009)(Minor Spoilers Review)

**This review contains MINOR spoilers, no plot twists, major reveals, or character deaths**

It’s 1976 in Richmond, Virginia, and one morning, a married couple receives a mysterious package on their doorstep.  Norma Lewis (Cameron Diaz) takes the package inside, as the delivery man drives away. At breakfast, Norma’s husband, Arthur (James Marsden) opens the plain brown package to reveal a seemingly harmless black box with a red button, and a note for a prescheduled meeting with Mr. Steward.

After a frustrating day at work, Arlington Steward (Frank Langella), a disfigured man, pays a visit to Norma to discuss the box. If Norma or Arthur push the red button, they will receive a payment of one million dollars, tax free. The catch? After pushing the button, an unknown victim will die. Mr. Steward isn’t allowed to disclose the identity of his “employers,” Norma and Arthur can’t discuss the box with anyone else, or the deal is off, and they have twenty-four hours to make a decision.

Norma works as a school teacher for kids at a private institution, Arthur works for NASA as an engineer, but Norma is devastated by a recent financial setback at school, and Arthur’s application for an open spot as an astronaut is rejected. At work, Arthur develops a shoe mold to support Norma’s disfigured foot. Norma needs surgery to repair the damage to her foot, but the surgery is too expensive.

Tired of living paycheck to paycheck, Norma pushes the button on the box. As promised, Mr. Steward delivers a briefcase packed with one million dollars. But The Lewis Family doesn’t have a chance to enjoy their newfound wealth, because Norma, Arthur, and their young son, Walter (Sam Oz Stone) experience a series of supernatural and life-threatening disturbances linked to Mr. Steward and his secret network of employees ………

Norma and Arthur are two good-hearted, hard working people, so it’s easy to sympathize with and root for their characters. Through Norma and Arthur, The Box does a good job of tugging on your “What would you do, if you were in their shoes?” thought process. You’re a hard working family man or woman, who wants to provide a comfortable life for your loved ones, so would you accept the offer, if Mr. Steward showed up with the box and a briefcase full of one million dollars?  There’s a scene, where Norma and Arthur are lying in bed discussing the offer, and Norma urges Arthur to consider pushing the button. Norma is terrified at the possibility of living a hopeless, dead end life, and Norma knows there’s a 99.9% chance they’ll never see another golden opportunity to have one million dollars.

But on the flip side, YOU are solely responsible for killing another person, if you push that button. Sure, you don’t know them personally. Still, you’re taking a life. Before pushing the button, Norma tries to dismiss the unknown death as a forgettable blip (i.e. pushing the button could kill a murderer on death row, a serial killer, etc. You know, someone, who deserves it) on the radar, but Arthur reminds Norma of the consequences. What if Mr. Steward’s network chooses a child for the death? A neighbor down the street? Or an innocent and happy person, who enjoys life? Before the supernatural side of the story kicks in, The Box is more than capable of tantalizing and toying with your mind, as you weigh the pros and cons during Norma and Arthur’s thought-provoking moral dilemma.

The Box features a handful of preposterous moments, but I didn’t hate this one. Yes, the finale is a disappointment, but The Box is one of those psychological thrillers that’ll keep you guessing until the very end. I was on the edge of my seat, because I had to know what would happen after Norma pushed that button. And the hazy cinematography really enhances the nostalgic 1970’s setting. Plus, director/writer Richard Kelly creates the perfect spooky atmosphere for The Box, especially during a few nighttime scenes. A good example is Arthur and one of Steward’s chosen victims sitting in a car at night. A Salvation Army-esque Santa is standing in front of the car, ringing his bell with this dazed look on his face for a distraction, and out of nowhere, a truck slams into the car. Creepy, creepy stuff.

Is the Box perfect? No. But there’s enough eccentric wonder here to captivate a more patient audience, and The Box is capable of luring you into a right vs. wrong quandary, with a tempting and lucrative decision.

Rating: 7/10

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