Press the button on a plain wooden box and you will be given $1 million; but as part of the bargain…someone unknown to you will die -- at the same time. This is the moral dilemma that confronts cash strapped NASA Engineer Arthur Lewis (James Marsden) and his teacher wife Norma (Cameron Diaz).
Based on the Richard Matheson (Stir of Echoes/I Am Legend) short story ‘Button, Button’ which was adapted in the 80s for the revived Twilight Zone (full episode link below), The Box director Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) takes the concept and expands it to provide an explanation for the central conceit.
Let me warn you -- The Box is not a happy movie, in fact it’s a total downer, with a pervasive air of dread throughout, especially from when the disfigured Arlington Steward turns up at the Lewis home with the offer. Langella is brilliantly creepy in the role, and seems to relish the chance to play a truly odd individual. If you have read his autobiography, it might not have been too much of stretch for him…
Diaz and Marsden are very good with their frantic efforts to escape their fate, drawing the viewer into the vortex. I don’t know whether The Box has made it to cult status, but in my opinion it damn well should be.
Richard Kelly’s directing career pretty much ground to a halt after the box office failure of the picture, which is a shame, since he is an original voice, although guilty on occasion of wilful obscurantism -- as displayed in his previous movie, 2006’s Southland Tales.
Note: in the same year as The Box, the inferior apocalyptic drama Knowing was released, with which it shares some thematic elements.
Is it an odd film? Certainly. Will it creep you out more than it engages you? Probably. Should we be rewarding folks who are willing to step out of bounds and make us think? Definitely. Check out The Box if you dare.