The Box, directed by Richard Kelly (best known for cult film Donnie Darko), stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as a couple who receive a visit from a strange, disfigured man known as Mr. Steward (Frank Langella) who offers them a million dollars if they press a button on a box. The catch: once the button is pressed, someone will die.
The trailer makes The Box look like a creepy modern day adaptation of Richard Matheson’s short story Button, Button (previously made famous through a Twilight Zone interpretation) which offers suspense and thrills. Instead the viewer is given neither and is presented with a film that annoys rather than entertains.
Looking at the premise of the film, it would seem that Diaz is attempting to move away from her comfort zone of rom-coms. However, it soon becomes clear that this is not the case, as it is more comical than horror. There is no suspense in this film whatsoever. It comes across as feeling like an old B-movie with an exaggerating score, and it’s difficult not to laugh when Mr. Steward is first introduced with the music hitting a triumphant crescendo. Langella feels as old-fashioned and out of place as the retro-movie aura, and that old technique of letting the audience know he is the villain because he is severely disfigured is used. It is disappointing that the film comes across so comically, because it had the potential to be a strong premise. The film’s demise rests solely on Kelly’s shoulders. His script is filled with terrible dialogue, backed by a tedious plot and the cast does the best it can. Another key problem is that it actually seems as if three films have been awkwardly forced together — as act one closes, act two drops the B-Movie feel and adds intrigue, and it almost feels like it was a shame that the first half was so bad. However, this rollercoaster ride of emotions continues, as the terrible B-Movie feeling and worsening plot drone on into the third act.
The main characters do not engage the viewer emotionally whatsoever — Diaz and Marsden are so difficult to sympathise with because they lack any kind of humane characteristics. They only worry about themselves, never the consequences. There is no real feeling of remorse and little worry about what will happen. As the film drags on, you’ll long for a button of your own to end it all, but it just seems to carry on.
Like Donnie Darko, The Box will leave you feeling perplexed, except here, it’s certainly not in a good way. You’re more likely to feel agitated, frustrated or bored — but one thing is assured: definitely not entertained.