MARCH 6, 2010
Not sure how The Box is considered a horror movie, but OK. There’s another genre I can put it under, but it’s sort of a spoiler, and it’s so out of left field that I think it should be saved for a surprise if you don’t know it already (if you were at Comic Con you do, since Cameron Diaz, moron that she is, spoiled it in front of 6500 people including a visibly annoyed Richard Kelly). But even that isn’t a cut and dry horror genre; it’s not like some werewolves show up.
Though I’m surprised that they don’t, because The Box is very much a Richard Kelly movie, in that half of it makes no logical sense, full screen diagrams are used to literally spell out certain plot points, and story threads come and go into the ether as if they were no more than background extras in the film. But finally, after three films (for the record, I don’t like Donnie Darko/HATE the longer “director’s cut”, and found Southland to be entertaining BECAUSE it was so gloriously incoherent and batshit, as if he wasn’t even trying to tell a story), I think I know why it is I find his work so impenetrable: he never gives me a character to identify with.
This film takes place in 1976, in Virginia. The worsening economy causes some problems for our main characters, the food/drink items are largely correctly “period”, etc. In other words, it doesn’t take place in some sort of alternate reality like Southland did. But yet, when James Marsden walks into a library and is greeted by a creepy woman and three ever growing columns of water (contained in invisible square shapes), he doesn’t seem to be that weirded out. And that’s the problem with the film (and to lesser extent, his other two) - no one seems to think any of this stuff is out of the ordinary. When Diaz and Marsden are told that they can push a button and get a million dollars, they barely blink, let alone laugh and look for the hidden candid cameras. Likewise, at the end of the film, Frank Langella offers them a different, equally ridiculous proposal, and again they buy it pretty quickly, and react on it even quicker. I think having at least ONE character in the film who would be like “What the fuck is going on? This is nonsense!” would go a long way into helping me care about the characters and, in turn, the movie.
And it’s a shame, because it actually starts out pretty good, as they agonize over pushing the button (again, there is little debate on they whys or hows, just the basic yes or no), and there are a couple of odd creepy moments here and there. But once they do and Langella comes to take the box to the next person, the movie falls apart. And that is pretty interesting, I think, because it was at that point that the Twilight Zone episode (which in turn was an expanded version of a shorter Richard Matheson story) ended. All of the stuff that follows is entirely Kelly’s invention, and it is of course what ultimately sinks the movie. He returns to his usual themes (far reaching other-worldly plots, “vessels”, aircraft, actor Holmes Osborne) and the movie gradually got less and less interesting to me. Each new plot development sucked away more of my interest, the opposite effect of what I presumed said revelations were supposed to achieve. I would have been perfectly happy with a 90 minute movie about the couple agonizing over whether or not to push the button, but instead we get about 30 minutes or so of that and then 80 minutes of mumbo-jumbo.
Putting Diaz in the lead doesn’t help matters. I think she’s a woefully overrated actress, and her only good films are the ones where she’s part of an ensemble (Very Bad Things, Any Given Sunday, etc). She just has no ability to disappear into a role like some other actresses can. There’s a subplot about her having a malformed foot, and it’s supposed to have this thematic payoff with Langella’s character, but she botches the moment by trying to act too hard. Luckily it’s a Richard Kelly movie, so there’s so much nonsense going on it’s actually the least of its concerns, but still - Marsden’s character is far more interesting (and he’s a far better actor), so if more of the film was shown from his point of view, it might have been more successful.
It’s at least a well shot film. Like M. Night Shyamalan, Kelly is someone who could be king of the world if he would just let someone else write his scripts, because his skills on the technical side are amazing. I never once doubted that they were in 1976 Virginia, even though they shot the film in 2007 around my home state of Massachusetts (including, albeit for an interior, a location not 1000 feet from my mom’s house). And even when I had no idea what the hell was going on (pretty much any scene with Gillian Jacobs), the film kept my attention thanks to interesting compositions (though he overuses the slow tracking in shot) and a wonderfully muted color palette that totally sold the cold of an east coast winter.
Oh and there’s a creepy Santa Claus scene. As always I have no explanation for it, but it’s creepy all the same. I wonder what a full blown Richard Kelly horror movie would be like.
I also wonder what it would be like to cue the film up to scenes like that, but unfortunately Warner Bros. has decided to part the buttocks of renters and shove their money-grubbing cocks deep inside. Not only do their “rental” versions of their films lack the bonus material, but they also stripped it of scene selection! Now, I can see not wanting to provide a 2nd, “all bonus” disc to rental locations - most people don’t bother with the extras, and it’s adding to the cost of shipping them I am sure. But reworking a disc that only had a single, not-lengthy extra on it to begin with (a conversation between Matheson and Kelly) and removing a basic functionality of a disc just seems like it would cost MORE money than it would to just send Blockbuster the normal version (the artwork also needs to be revised). Plus, by manufacturing two versions of a disc, they run a higher risk of fucking someone over when they buy the disc “properly” and get a rental version instead. It’s more of a way to fuck with Blockbuster - less chance people will buy their pre-viewed discs if they are stripped of their alluring bonus material - but it’s a giant slap in the face to renters as well. For example - I paid 15 bucks to see their neutered Terminator Salvation in theaters. Now they are telling me in order to see the non-truncated version, I have to drop another 20-30 bucks to buy the DVD or Bluray? Fuck you! You owe me! All this is going to do is make me less likely to go see a Warner Brothers (or any other studio that adopts this behavior) film in theaters if I know that it was compromised (as I did for T4). And because I’m spiteful, I’ll buy the disc used from Ebay or Half.com or whatever, so that they still don’t get my money. How you like that, fuckers? You don’t? Then give me back my scene selection!
But in this case, it’s The Box, so I don’t want to buy it anyway. Once was enough, if not more so.
What say you?