Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Box (2009) – Review

The Box is a study of humanity played through a simple premise: a box arrives with a button, push the button and two things will happen, first one million dollars shall be delivered in cash, second someone not known to you shall die. It is a test of human nature. Can we put humanity before ourselves, take that to mean material needs, personal issues, really what is most applicable to each of us (as it tends to differ on some level)? The film takes this query, sprinkles in a little Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and applies it as a thriller, on the surface at least. As a thriller, the film feels a bit slow moving, though tension is effectively used, if only key performances had been a bit better, but nonetheless the film is able to create a certain apprehension in the viewer – in that, the audience not only watches but, if engaged (not all will be due to the slow pacing, but those interested will), actively participates in solving the mystery surrounding the circumstances of the box, dread, doubt, mistrust arising within (the viewer) directed at both characters and self. Thus, the anxiety is in whether finding answers will set us free or in searching do we become lost. Here is where the film is most interesting. The analysis of human nature – there are a number of specific points made thematically and visually in the film directed at different aspects of both human psychology and societal function. How do we justify what we do, be it what we are willing to do – why and to what degree. The film seemly takes on a Sci-Fi feel to it as the characters search for answers – yet, the film deviates from its apparent science fictional mythos (or does it?) and seems to drift into theistic lore. The themes of the film and inferences lie in direct contradiction to the habitual indulgences that rule human existence (or at least seem to, there are a number of examples – but the huge wind-tunnel may be the best). Those opting to participate in the discourse of the film should find it interesting. If not, the film plays as a thriller, much like its setting, from a earlier period in (film) history, too slow for the action packed thrill a minute film-goers today. Richard Kelly has a mastery of visual style and aesthetic. He is also quite good at injecting mythos into his narrative. However, at times, he gets hung up on the mystery which can leave his narrative wanting. With The Box, he uses his camera and other aesthetic tools to craft a beautifully visual and tonally perfect film, but he has not completely succeeded in its structural narrative pacing and has not garnered the necessary performances needed to make this film great. The cinematography of Steven Poster is wonderfully suited to the material, pitch and period of the piece. The same can be said for the production design of Alec Hammond. A high spot of the film is the score, composed by Acarde Fire members Win Butler and Regine Chassagne and collaborator (both here and with Arcade Fire) Owen Pallett; it accents the mystery and suspense of the film well. The performances from the three leads are a bit uneven. Frank Langella is great (what else would anyone suspect though), benevolent and creep simultaneously is hard to pull off. The issue lies with James Marsden and Cameron Diaz. Marsden is good at times, but pitted against Langella, he is vastly overshadowed. Diaz, on the other hand, while seemly able to hold her own with Langella, though more so in screen presence than ability, mostly just feels out of place. The Box, an interesting look at the state of humanity, works more in its analysis than as a gripping thriller. 7/10

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