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The Box (2009)

So, remember when I was pontificating recently about those directors who are making films that are clearly their own riffs on the Twilight Zone and that perhaps the filmmakers would be better served by simply filming one of the old television scripts? Well, I still stand by that. Let us not use Richard Kelly’s The Box as an example of my idea put into practice.

The Richard Matheson short story that this is based upon did not begin life as a Twilight Zone script – it was a piece he wrote in 1970 entitled “Button, Button” and it wasn’t until the “new” 19801 Twilight Zone reboot that the story was translated into episode form. Incidentally, Richard Matheson is responsible for some of the best original Twilight Zone scripts of the series – he is a seminal horror writer and a master at what he does. One of the reasons Richard Kelly’s adaptation of The Box fails is because Kelly personalizes the story with especially odd filler that he apparently culled from his own childhood – there is too much that is simply not necessary. The story would have (and did in Matheson’s own version) worked much better without everything being explained – more should have been left open for interpretation. I recently complained in my review for Vanishing on 7th Street that the script supplied us with nothing – no resolution, no answers why, and The Box is at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. A nice middle ground is what is required, especially for mind twisters of this ilk. Kelly offers no subtlety here – it is as if he no longer trusts his audience to come to conclusions on their own. Oh, how seriously the movie takes itself. Oh, how little reason there is for us to do the same.

I am a bit surprised that Kelly is able to keep getting funding for his films from major studios. Donnie Darko is a film I consider a minor masterpiece but the director’s output since then has been nearly disastrous. I have not seen Southland Tales and I have no interest to – from all I have heard it is a film to be missed. Now The Box. Another blunder. Kelly seems to be making films he feels strongly about and putting his heart and soul into them and I do hate to fault a filmmaker for that, but he really needs to reign himself in. The man who so spryly and wittily dissected an era and the mind space of the numerous characters inhabiting it, is nowhere on display here.

Some scenes do come close to conjuring up some potent paranoia, but they never quite make it. The script is a wild goose chase with some especially atrocious dialogue, the ending is a total wipe out and the rest is a plodding mess. The acting is less than captivating and Cameron Diaz trots out a truly heinous and mangled accent. The only performance I did enjoyed was from the always reliable Celia Weston, who portrays the mother of Cameron’s character. I wish they’d used more of her.

The score deserves a better film to showcase it – it goes a long way in making the proceedings feel more tangible and doom laced than they ever are. When James Marsden says late in the game, “I’m looking for the nearest exit” you’ll know just how he feels. C-

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