You've just crossed over into ‘The Twilight Zone’. Sci-fi thriller ‘The Box’ is a feature-length version of an episode of the hit 80’s/90’s TV show, which titillated and regaled its viewers with surreal, absurdist yet gripping sci-fi tales. The weekly hook was how each episode dipped its toe into the realm of realism begging the question ‘What would you do?’ and ‘The Box’ is no different. Based on Richard Matheson's creepy short story, ‘Button, Button’, the premise is brilliant.
Set in 1976 near NASA’s Langley base at a time when the US Viking Project landed a spaceship on Mars, sending pictures back to earth.
The ‘What would you do?’ hook arises when a young, married couple are presented with a box containing a large button. With one press of the button they will be guaranteed one million dollars (tax-free!). The snag is that it will also ensure that someone, somewhere will somehow die. They have 24-hours to decide, starting from... now. Such is the dilemma facing Southern Belle, Norma (Diaz) and her husband, NASA scientist Arthur (Marsden). Their moral decision and interaction with the boxes middleman, Arlington Stewart (Langella), causes a chain reaction that affects the rest of their lives and that of their young son, Walter (Stone).
Just like ‘The Twilight Zone’ there’s a list of inconsistencies and plot holes the length of your arm but unlike the show, the investment of your time and patience goes largely unrewarded. There is an interesting and recession-appropriate message about greed. However the moral dilemma is unnecessarily complicated by a watery time travel sequence and ill-fitting references to Sartre amongst others. The mention of an intelligent, judgmental alien life form is interesting yet goes unexplored.
Diaz’ follows ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ with another parenting role but her focus, along with Marsden’s, on their Southern drawl distracts from their, already numb, performances. However ‘Frost/Nixon’ Oscar nominee Langella is perfectly cast as the sinister evil puppeteer, who thoroughly enjoys his job.
Writer/director Richard Kelly previously delivered cinema gold with 2001’s ‘Donnie Darko’ but despite an interesting premise, this is not a return to form.