The Box is another film that can be described as cinematic Marmite, you’ll either love it or hate it, but having seen it you’ll feel compelled to comment on it. For my part I loved it, but I can also see that the reasons that I loved it will be the reasons that some people will hate it – this really is a film with no middle ground.
Richard Kelly’s latest film is akin to the illegitimate love-child of David Lynch & Stanley Kubrick after a particularly heavy nights drinking with Oliver Stone during which the world was shown to be a vast conspiracy theory. We aren’t talking about DaVinci Code conspiracies here, no that’s far too prosaic – were talking about reality bending, world snapping conspiracies. On this level The Box could be viewed as pure tosh, but below this beats a sinister heart that’s far better than its premise suggests.
What would you do for a million dollars? And what would you allow to be done to you? The moral question at the heart of the film is not this, but rather how far should the social experiment to find out be taken? The problem is that it’s pursued from a human perspective, whilst it soon becomes clear that other, larger forces are behind the game. To give more details of the plot will give the game away, but suffice to say this is a film that works within its own twisted, internal logic – viewed from the outside it is pure nonsense – and works perfectly.
One of the reasons for this is the way that it is directed. Kelly seems to have taken a leaf out of David Fincher’s book and returned to the old conspiracy thrillers of the Nineteen-Seventies for inspiration, not only in terms of the colour palette (this is a perfectly constructed period film) but also in trying to replicate the technology of today to mimic the look of the technology then – even down to degraded film stock. It’s an interesting choice, and one that is perhaps only noticed by those who obsessively note such things (what?) but it does help to enhance the mood of creeping dread that permeates the whole thing.
Interestingly given that his last film was a notorious failure (although Southland Tales is worth watching to see some gems of possible ideas that didn’t make it) Kelly has sought to make an even less commercial film, one with no happy ending (Donnie Darko at least has a positive outcome, even if it involves accepting your fate), no easy way out and that makes a point of stripping its stars of glamour. Furthermore the relatively limited budget (just over $30 million) suggests that he’s more interested in pursuing his own vision than maintaining the studio line (something that both Lynch & Kubrick did as well).
Whether the film will stand repeated viewings like Donnie Darko remains to be seen – part of the joy of watching it the first time is the fact that it continually goes into places that you can’t foresee – but it is worth the time and effort of seeing it at least once, if only to remind yourself that Cameron Diaz can act when she chooses to.