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The Box

Pushing Buttons

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

This may not be the triumphant return Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) fans were hoping for, but The Box offers enough to prove that Kelly is a natural filmmaker. Not as sprawling as his second film, the fantastic failure Southland Tales, it still leaves you guessing at every turn and attempting to put the pieces together. In what could have been a very mediocre studio picture under anyone else’s eye, Kelly crafts an original, suspenseful thriller that, despite some faults, establishes that he’s more than a one hit wonder.

After a terribly suspect day of bad luck for Arthur (James Marsden) and Norma Lewis (Cameron Diaz), they find themselves worried about their financial future. Coincidentally, perhaps, a box was left on their doorstep that morning. That night the owner of the box, Arlington Steward (Frank Langella), pays them a visit and explains what they have been given a choice. If they push the button they will receive $1 million, but someone whom they don’t know will die, or they simply could do nothing. Obviously, the cash-strapped couple is intrigued by the proposition, but they are just as intrigued by the entire situation and the mysterious man who’s behind it.

Soon they’re entangled in a cosmic game that is never quite revealed. Despite some pacing and editing issues, the film heads down the rabbit’s hole. If this seems like a criticism, it’s not. Actually the story is the film’s strongest attribute, it’s the execution that is spotty.

What made Donnie Darko so successful is that despite a pretty convoluted and seemingly unresolved plot, the viewer feels satisfied even with many unanswered questions. Again Kelly takes this approach, uncovering a plot behind the box that’s headed by the disfigured and creepy Steward. But, it feels as if Kelly can’t decide which path to take until the very end.

Beginning as a normal thriller, The Box ends as a thoroughly sci-fi flick, taking on the issues of Christianity and the afterlife. Perhaps the studio felt that was a bad tagline and meddled with it to make it more accessible, or maybe Kelly, himself, wasn’t sure how to truly reconcile the two halves.

Whatever the reason, Kelly proves that he has a real way with creating atmospheric and intelligent films that raise more questions than they answer. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to fully realize it with this one.