As with his debut, Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly’s third film boasts an intriguing conundrum and an evocative period setting to complement it. Unfortunately, like his second film, Southland Tales, Kelly’s latest eventually unravels into an incomprehensible mess. It’s looking like Kelly’s going to squander the great promise heralded by his first film with a preoccupation with obscurantism that threatens to sink his career.
Still, there’s much to be admired about The Box, which is based on a 12-page short story, ‘Button, Button’, by the great science fiction writer Richard Matheson. Set in America in 1976 (the post-Watergate conspiracy era, significantly), it features Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as a young married couple in dire financial straits who are offered a unique way out by Frank Langella’s enigmatic and disconcertingly disfigured stranger. Having been presented with a wooden box with a red button on top, they’re told if they push it someone they don’t know will die and they will be given $1 million tax-free. You can probably guess what happens next, and when it does Diaz and Marsden are sucked into an increasingly incredible mystery that involves creepy kids, bodily possession, government spooks from the NSA and a NASA Mars mission.
All of that’s interesting up to a point, with the first hour playing like an episode of The Twilight Zone (for which TV show Matheson’s story has previously been adapted) directed by David Lynch, but then Kelly’s determination to maintain mystery becomes confounding, pretentious, laughable and finally irritating.
General release from Fri 4 Dec.