A case of boxing clever, or just boxing stupid?

PUBLISHED: 10:59 04 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:35 07 September 2010

REVIEWS BY MICHAEL JOYCE The Box (12A) Director Richard Kelly Starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, James Rebhorn, Holmes Osborne, Sam Oz Stone 115 mins Three star rating As hardy perennials go, there can be few more hardy or perennial than the one about what

The Box (12A)

Director Richard Kelly Starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, James Rebhorn, Holmes Osborne,

Sam Oz Stone

115 mins

Three star rating

As hardy perennials go, there can be few more hardy or perennial than the one about what you would do if you were offered £1,000,000 to press a button, knowing that as a result someone you didn't know would die somewhere in the world. In 1970 Richard Matheson used it as the basis for a short story called Button, Button and later it featured in an episode in the eighties revamp of The Twilight Zone.

Richard Kelly made one of the most audacious debuts of the decade with Donnie Darko but then followed that up with one of its most extravagant flops, the sprawling, whacked out mess Southland Tales.

When it was announced that he was making a film of Matheson's story the obvious assumption was that this would be his calm, returning-to-the-fold, wearing-a-suit-and-tie-to-the-office, showing-he-can-be-responsible film, a way to prove that he could still be trusted.

No such thing. Though The Box is slightly more conventional than his other films, the kilter is definitely set to off here, which is both a good and bad thing.

The film is set in 1976 (Kelly is always very specific about the settings of his films) and the film expands on Matheson's story by engulfing it in an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers style conspiracy and an atmosphere of cold war paranoia. It is constantly intriguing, often genuinely chilling, but there are moments that are laughably bad and it will irritate more people than it pleases.

It isn't just the bizarre story that will perplex audiences. When the box with the button arrives on the doorstep of happily married couple Diaz and Marsden they seem oddly blasé about it all; having set up this great moral quandary, it is barely discussed.

From early on it is clear that some characters are possessed by an external force but there is a distracted, artificial quality to everything in the film, from the period detail to the performances; there's no sense of normality.

When he made Darko, the comparisons with David Lynch seemed rather lazy, but this crucial third film reveals Kelly as a film maker with a genuinely unique vision, a head brimming with ideas but suspect judgement when it comes to recognising the good ones.


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