Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Box (2009)(Spoiler Review)

**This review contains spoilers**

It’s 1976 in Richmond, Virginia, and one morning, a married couple receive 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. To show appreciation for Norma’s generous hospitality, and to prove the deal isn’t a hoax, Mr. Stewart gives Norma a crisp one hundred dollar bill as a gift.

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 and Arthur consider Mr. Steward’s offer. On one hand, Norma dreads missing the once in a lifetime opportunity of becoming a millionaire, and Norma wants the money for a more secure and stable future for herself, Arthur, and their young son, Walter (Sam Oz Stone). Arthur struggles with the thought of being responsible for the death of an innocent person, but Norma is willing to accept the risk, and with one hard slap, Norma pushes the red button.

As promised, Mr. Steward delivers a briefcase packed with one million dollars. Overwhelmed with guilt, Arthur orders Mr. Steward to keep the briefcase, but Mr. Steward refuses. With a looming sense of a third eye watching their every move hanging over them, Norma and Arthur are unable to enjoy their newfound wealth, and after a series of bizarre incidents, including reoccurring nosebleeds from other people, Norma and Arthur fear for their lives and Walter’s safety.

During the investigation to dig up more info on Mr. Steward, Norma and Arthur discover a hidden world full of supernatural obstacles and Mr. Steward’s zombified employees, who will stop at nothing to protect Mr. Steward and the secrets behind the box. And Arthur jeopardizes everything by breaking a rule: Desperate for help, Arthur exposes Steward’s identity to the police. To make matters worse, Arthur urges Norma’s father, Dick Burns (Holmes Osborne), a trusted detective in the local police department, to run the numbers on Mr. Steward‘s license plate……..

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.

So we’re in the final moments of the movie, and a deaf and blind Walter is locked inside the bathroom at the Lewis‘ home. With their backs against the wall, Mr. Steward offers Norma and Arthur a way out with two non-negotiable options. Option one, Norma and Arthur can keep the money, and live a life free of interference from Mr. Steward’s employees, but there’s one catch: If  Norma and Arthur keep the money, Walter must live the rest of his life blind and deaf. Option two? Mr. Steward gives Norma and Arthur a gun with one bullet in the chamber, and Arthur must kill Norma. If Arthur kills Norma, Walter’s blindness will disappear, Mr. Steward promises to restore his hearing, and the one million dollars will sit in a secure account, gaining interest until Walter turns eighteen. Unable to bear the thought of being responsible for condemning their own son to a life of darkness, Norma urges Arthur to pull the trigger. After a pair of tearful good-byes, Arthur kills Norma.

I have mixed feelings about this finale. Yeah, Mr. Steward and his network stripping Walter of his vision and hearing was a nice out of left field shock, but when Mr. Steward announced the options, you knew Norma and Arthur would take the unselfish path. The Box already established Norma and Arthur as two people with big hearts, so I had a hard time buying into the frantic “WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO!!!” act from Diaz and Marsden. Also, when you consider all of the fantasy hoopla and diabolical foreshadowing, it’s hard to ignore underwhelming feelings for this finale. The Box leads you to believe they’re building towards some BIG shocking twist, but the surprise (using that word very loosely) of Arthur killing Norma didn’t do anything for me.

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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