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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
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POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
James Marsden
Cameron Diaz
Frank Langella
James Rebhorn.
Directors
Richard Kelly.
Screenwriters
Richard Kelly.
Running Time
115 minutes

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The Box
Richard Kelly pushes the button


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Plot
When a mysterious stranger deposits a box at the door of married couple Arthur (James Marsden) and Norma (Cameron Diaz), they are presented with a stark choice. Do they press the button and receive $1 million, in the knowledge that doing so, someone, somewhere will die?


Review
The Box
Well, what would you do? That’s the question that will sit with you long after Richard Kelly’s sci-fi/horror/morality play has faded out. Like Adrian Lyne’s Indecent Proposal 16 years before it, his high-concept quandary asks both its protagonists and its audience a million-dollar zinger. Unlike its predecessor, here it’s not just OAP ugly-bumping that’s at stake. This time, taking the money comes at a much higher price...

It should have been the stuff of dinner-party discussion the world over; a movie that intrigued across genders and generations. Not least given its credentials: based on a short story by sci-fi icon Richard Matheson (I Am Legend); already adapted into one of The Twilight Zone’s more famous episodes; and starring the highest-paid actress working today. It should, frankly, have made a hell of a lot more than its crumby $7.6 million opening weekend in the US.

That it did may not exactly be the greatest news for Kelly — where now, Richard? — but at least he can’t be accused of selling out. On paper, it all looked very straight and smart: big star, big studio, big success. Instead, he takes that box office-friendly set-up and, well, indies it all over the place. Nose-bleeding zombies, Sartre-spouting mystery men with half their faces missing, her off of There’s Something About Mary with half her foot missing, NASA conspiracy theories, 2001-styled Star Gate montages, endless existential noodling, a spot of time travel and a suicidal Santa... It’s so stripped of mainstream logic that the first screening to the Paramount brass must have made for an interesting day. And it so wilfully, wonderfully disregards narrative convention that Donnie Darko fans will have a ball.

Of course, such was the fallout from Southland Tales — Kelly’s savaged sophomore farrago — that Darko already feels a mighty long time ago. But that movie’s faithful will feel right at home from the get-go. The Box, like Darko, once again sees Kelly pit an all-American family against paranormal forces. And this time it’s personal, with Diaz and Marsden based in part on Kelly’s parents and the movie set in his childhood backyard of Virginia, circa 1976.

The setting gives Kelly the chance to play with many of the stylistic licks of that era, his sound design, Arcade Fire’s retro soundtrack, and cinematography (he shot on digital, having been convinced the medium could fit a period setting when he saw David Fincher’s Zodiac) establishing a paranoid, foreboding tone that riffs on the likes of Rosemary’s Baby and Kubrick — The Shining and 2001 the most obvious influences. But although the personalising of his story draws out some great performances — particularly from Diaz — it also strips the situation of much of the empathy needed for it to truly work. Diaz and Marsden here are a teacher and a Langley scientist respectively, struggling to pay their son’s private school fees when his application to become an astronaut is rejected. Hardly on the breadline, are they? Are we really supposed to empathise with their decision to sacrifice a human life, anonymous or not, for the sake of a fancy education?

In Frank Langella’s Arlington Steward, though, Kelly has crafted a brilliant bad guy. Sporting some terrific CG work that sheers off an entire cheek, he’s a captivating combination of Two-Face and Jigsaw, an unhinged loon, all the more scary for his conviction that morals are on his side. Any more would spoil it, but it’s safe to say that once his button is pushed, he’s a memorably scary creation.

Certainly, The Box will befuddle, confound and frustrate, its refusal to stick to a single tone, or even genre, maddening if you’re not prepared to fly with it. But here’s the real question: given Kelly’s startling box office wobble since the highs of Darko, will he feel forced to play things more commercial in the immediate future? Will this, then, be the last pure Kelly movie we see in a while? It’s a very real worry. The question is: is missing it on a big screen a choice you’re prepared to make?


Verdict
Movie Marmite. Many will be perplexed. Donnie Darko fans should lap it up.


Reviewed by Mark Dinning

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Box
Empire Star Rating

disapointing

It's important to state that this is no Donnie Darko, yet Kelly delivers an intense dark thriller about the consequences of our actions. Paranoia brews at every turn as things are n't what they seem. This is film that plays with you throughout throwing wonderfully wierd concepts, images and scenes that involve a student provoking Diaz to take off her shoes, lots of people getting nose bleeds, and a zombie-like Father Christmas. For a film that is based on a short story and Twilight Zone episo... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by gzus at 21:59, 28 December 2009 | Report This Post


good but not a classic

@ rossabroad. say what you like about phantom menace or attack of the clones but revenge of the sith was a very good star wars film, and deserved high marks, and if people spent less time jumping on bandwagons rather than watching the film they may choose to change their opinion on that one. anyway as for the box, i have to say it had me intrigued most of the way through but then fell a little flat at the end. the ending without giving anything away will maybe suit a european audience more th... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dfooster at 10:31, 17 December 2009 | Report This Post


Thin Storyline + Added Weirdness != Good Film

That Empire rated this 4 stars when almost all of the other reviews rated it 1 made this a must see. Hum. The basic story is painfully simple. A decision is required about whether or not to use 'The Box'. If it is used, a second decision must be made. That's it. No really, that really is it. It's pretty obvious in both cases what decision will be made, the outcome is heavily signposted so there is zero drama when it happens. Everything else, adds nothing. It is set in 1976. Why? T... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by charly_whiskus at 10:23, 17 December 2009 | Report This Post


Avoid ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by cracked actor at 21:42, 14 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Thinking too far outside 'The Box'

Jeez there seem to be so many people who hate this movie. I really wanted to see after I watched the trailer two months ago, and I still do even with most people saying its shit. I think I heard one radio reviewer call it the worst film of this year, he must seriously be blind, as there have been so much shit this year just like every year, Street Fighter: LOCL and Underworld 3 as some examples, it appears people are only laying into this movie because it was being hyped quite a bit, when a... More

Posted by MI Cruise at 02:07, 13 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Thinking too far outside 'The Box'

L: klen13 A huge number of elements of the movie are just too coincedental to be believeable, ruining whatever authenticity it could have had. The strange student in Diaz's class, Diaz and Marsden both losing their jobs on the same day the box enters their lives. Five minutes into it and I was already sighing. id you spectacularly miss the nosebleed Cameron Diaz's headteacher had..?! They were both being manipulated in order to make them focus on the box. Criticise all you like b... More

Posted by Gretzky at 14:31, 12 December 2009 | Report This Post


Utter trite.

I heave at the thought of seeing the film again. God I hope no one buys it for me on Dvd when it comes out. ... More

Posted by richiemoomoo at 09:41, 11 December 2009 | Report This Post


Utter trite.

Being a Media teacher, I can appreciate the quirky film but jeez, this was awful. Appalling CGI (Apart from 'the face'), acting as wooden as my leg (I don't have a wooden leg but for comedy's sake, let's say I do) and lacking in any charisma (like Bernard Manning). Don't waste your time. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by richiemoomoo at 09:38, 11 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: the box

rial]Cameron Diaz always looks like she needs a wash. And she can't act.r] ... More

Posted by Snake-Eyes at 20:25, 10 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: the box

THE BOX  has the look and feel of a 70's Paranoia thriller,and is better than your average Sci-Fi/horror film of today.Richard Kelly(Donni Darko) is on fine form weaving a fantastic story of loss of soul,and his visual style is stunning,yet never over whelming. It's very creepy in places and has a feel of being a Twilight Zone episode(and guess what it is).Originally written by Richard Matheson(I am Legend,What Dreams May Come,and Somewhere In Time are three of his books turned to film)thi... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by evil bill at 21:05, 09 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: the box

Pretty much disliked by both critics and the public, The Box is in no way a perfect film and has some things in it which don't really work, but it deserves a lot of credit for being pretty unpredictable, a rare thing in a Hollywood film, you really don't know where it's going for most of it's length. Director Richard Kelly creates a wierd atmosphere from the start even when little is really happening, than as the bizarre elements, from bleeding people to space to zombies floating bubbelw of ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 18:25, 09 December 2009 | Report This Post


the box

The best thing i can say about this film was that i was considering giving it 4 stars for being wierd. You can tell its by the same guy who did donkey darko. Its worth a watch but take a large pinch of salt to best enjoy it!!!!!! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by HERMES_67 at 22:24, 08 December 2009 | Report This Post


It seems to me that Richard Kelly thinks that because Donnie Darko was loved so much for its complicated and surreal storyline, that he now can just arrogantly put together a load of weird events and call it a movie and as fans of Darko, we just have to accept it as Kelly doing his 'surreal thing'. I'm sorry for being a old stick in the mud as I absolutely loved Donnie Darko but this was just stupid. It expects us to just go with the different scenarios placed before us just because we did w... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by SouthMouth at 17:35, 08 December 2009 | Report This Post


not believable (spoilers)

My biggest problem with The Box was, that I found the whole process of the couple's decision to push the button completely unbelievable. This is where the emotional conflict was supposed to originate from, yet an obviously intelligent couple (a teacher and a scientist) don't even pose the question, weather this whole set up could be, for example, a very well staged con. There they are, astonished that the man with half his face missing left them a "real" 100$ bill for them to see he is... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by zenotrapp at 12:28, 08 December 2009 | Report This Post


not believable (spoilers)

My biggest problem with The Box was, that I found the whole process of the couple's decision to push the button completely unbelievable. This is where the emotional conflict was supposed to originate from, yet an obviously intelligent couple (a teacher and a scientist) don't even pose the question, weather this whole set up could be, for example, a very well staged con. There they are, astonished that the man with half his face missing left them a "real" 100$ bill for them to see he is... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by zenotrapp at 12:27, 08 December 2009 | Report This Post


oh my god

Firstly I loved Donnie Darko. With the exception of Frank Langella, this is one of the worst acted movies I have ever endured. Who in gods name gave this crap the greenlight. A third of the cinema walked out and the couple behind me giggled at every 'tense' scene. I can safely say this is beyond a doubt the worst film I have ever seen at the cinema. The story sounds great for a movie and really you've got to go a long way to balls it up and director Richard Kelly does just that. Oh and he d... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by sonnychiba at 08:28, 08 December 2009 | Report This Post


One Hit Wonder

Richard Kelly proven himself a 'One Hit Wonder'. I can say with no hyperbole 'The Box' frightens 'The Happening' as worst film of the decade! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by schwin at 21:45, 07 December 2009 | Report This Post


The Box

Followwing the fantastic Donnie Darko Richard Kelly went on to make Southland Tales which i hated. The Box is in someways a return to form but a 115 minutes it feels stretched. The first 45 minutes or so were fantastic but when it reaches the halfway point theres another 45 minutes of padding and nonsense. The film however manages to pick itself back up witha fantastic ending. The Box would have been a fantastic film at 1 hour but at 115 minutes it feels stretched. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Soprano168 at 19:41, 07 December 2009 | Report This Post


The Box

Kelly, as he did in Donnie Darko, avoids obvious scare techniques. Instead, he makes the bizarre, the surreal, and the frightening emerge from normal reality ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 18:23, 07 December 2009 | Report This Post


The Box

Kelly, as he did in Donnie Darko, avoids obvious scare techniques. Instead, he makes the bizarre, the surreal, and the frightening emerge from normal reality ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 18:23, 07 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Erm...

I have to say that I enjoyed The Box very much. Yes, parts of it were garbled and there were a lot of questions left unanswered, but is this necessarily a bad thing? There were a few moments that I found to be visually breathtaking, particularly the library sequence (even if the chase up to the head librarian was rather amusing). Richard Kelly's biggest problem, imo, is that he's a terrible self-editor. The cinematic cut of Donnie Darko is note perfect, but once Kelly went back and ma... More

Posted by Filmfan 2 at 10:42, 07 December 2009 | Report This Post


Erm...

As already mentioned Empire we love you, but 4 stars for The Box??? really?? a film that took too long to get going, and when it finally did it posed its questions only to answer them immediately and then drill home the answer in fear that the audience might not get it! Fans of Donnie Darko will not be in their element...if they loved the confusion and the working out involved in watching donnie darko, this film is not for you! I left the cinema really wanting to like it because the subject matt... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jamescregeen at 11:40, 06 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: 3 Stars

It's good - well it doesn't any problems (as far as Richard Kelly films go), but it rarely sucks you in to its uncertainties. I spent a fair bit of the film wishing I was watching Southland Tales, which maybe deeply flawed but it's also thoroughly engrossing. ... More

Posted by thedrin at 08:54, 06 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: 3 Stars

L: Edward Nygma Can't wait to see this. I personally love Donnie Darko. Southland Tales however...was just very hard to sit through. oks more human friendly. ]   Poster quote if I ever saw one.   Anyway, saw this today and my opinions are mixed. To me it was very good but there were still niggles that irritated me. Loved the car scene with Arthur and the babysitter and Frank Langella was fantastic as Mr Steward (in fact the whole cast was excellent). However I ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Nimrods Son at 22:44, 05 December 2009 | Report This Post


RE: There Are Worse Films

L: adambatman82 I rather enjoyed The Box. o er missus ... More

Posted by sanchia at 22:20, 05 December 2009 | Report This Post


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