Filmmaking Outside The Box.
I put this movie into the DVD player without prior knowledge of its makers or pedigree. As I watched, I couldn’t help thinking of the two above references, with a heavy sprinkling of TWILIGHT ZONE.
Lo and behold, it’s the writer-director of DARKO at the helm, Richard Kelly. And this short story by Richard Matheson (called Button, Button) was made into a TWILIGHT ZONE episode in 1986.
A mysterious old man (Frank Langella) delivers a box with a red button on top, to a young couple (James Marsden and Cameron Diaz) who have just undergone some bad luck. He makes his pitch: “If you push the button, two things will happen: first, someone, somewhere in the world, whom you don’t know, will die. Second, you will receive a payment of one million dollars, tax-free.”
Of course, the question is not what the young couple would do – it’s what YOU would do.
The year is 1976 and THE BOX feels exactly like one of those old school mystery thrillers from the ’70s. Filmed in that subtly hazy filmstock that makes it look aged, with old fashions, hairstyles and surroundings, it takes us for an intriguing ride, surprise after surprise.
Well-acted, well-directed and well-constructed, this movie’s main criticism will be that it extends its reach into a pseudo-supernatural world towards its climax. I would argue that it acquits itself by foreshadowing its more outlandish plot elements with Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This tenet “explains the source of our amazement as our limitation, rather than the impossibility of the technology.” (Wikipedia.)
There is much science jargon (now we know why this movie was box office kryptonite – no one wants to think anymore, they’d rather watch Val Kilmer play the sexy dope in RED PLANET) as Marsden plays a NASA scientist, working on the camera for the Mars Lander, acquitting himself nicely from his Cyclops debacles.
Diaz is a high school teacher with a deformity – no toes on one foot. And Langella is an ex-NASA employee involved in some kind of alien experiment with his button boxes and scary velvet voice. Film takes on shades of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL when Langella warns, “If human beings are unwilling or unable to sacrifice individual desires for the greater good of your species, you have no chance for survival – and my employers will be compelled to expedite your extinction.”
Story takes ingenious twists and lands us just outside “Wha’ just happuhned?” but like Donnie Darko waking up on that mountain road, we know that’s just where we wanna be…