Push a red button on a little black box, get a million dollars cash. Just like that, all of Norma (Diaz) and Arthur (Marsden) Lewis’s financial problems will be over. But there’s a catch, according to the strange visitor (Langella) who placed the box on the couple’s doorstep: Someone somewhere—someone they don’t know—will die. Norma and Arthur are confronted by agonizing temptation, yet unaware that they’re part of an orchestrated and (for them and us) mind-blowing chain of events.
Director Richard Kelly has crafted yet another evocative, spectacular, maddening film guaranteed to provoke passionate love-it or hate-it responses. Though far more straightforward than his previous cult favorites, Donnie Darko or Southland Tales, The Box is crammed just as full of stunning visuals and ambiguous metaphysics. Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz of Charlie’s Angels and James Marsden of X-Men) find a plainly wrapped package on their doorstep one day. Inside is a strange box with a large, red button—and if they press that button, explains a courtly but alarming-looking gentleman (Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon), they will receive a million dollars… and someone they don’t know will die. This is but the starting point for an increasingly creepy tale, featuring eye-popping wallpaper, spontaneous nosebleeds, allusions to Jean-Paul Sartre, overly attentive library patrons, boxes of water, warehouses full of light, and a bell-ringing Santa Claus standing in the middle of a road. Some of it makes sense, some of it doesn’t, but the person who’s going to love this movie won’t care. The Box’s true power lies in the slow accumulation of dizzying hypnotic images and a tangible sense of unease and anticipation. Kelly aspires to capture the beauty and terror of existence on film; even if he doesn’t succeed—and every viewer will have to decide that for himself or herself—his sheer ambition is remarkable. —Bret Fetzer