In 2001, after bursting onto the scene and receiving critical acclaim for his mind-bending sci-fi film “Donnie Darko,” writer-director Richard Kelly stumbled badly with his 2006 follow-up “Southland Tales.” His next major project “The Box,” opening this week, achieves neither the highs, nor lows of his previous efforts. It is, however, a thought-provoking and respectable effort, that proves Kelly is a talent and “Darko” wasn’t entirely beginner’s luck.
“The Box” stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as married couple Norma and Arthur Lewis. One morning on their doorstep, they receive a mysterious box with a button on it. The couple are offered a deal by the box’s owner, the hideously-scarred Arlington Steward, played by Frank Langella. If they push the button on the box, they will be given one million dollars in cash. The catch is, by doing so a person, a stranger to them, will die. The question of morality versus self-interest is the heart of the tale.
As the story “The Monkey’s Paw” and countless episodes of “The Twilight Zone” have taught us, any magic deal that seems too good to be true always is. The couple must make a decision and deal with the consequences of their choice. Of course, the fallout from this moral quandary is far more complicated than initially seen.
The screenplay was adapted by Kelly from a short story by Richard Matheson, who also wrote “I Am Legend.” Kelly has an interesting film-making style. He’s quite confident in an audience’s ability to follow along and connect the dots on their own. This leaves him free to dispense with much of the exposition and hand-holding many directors are beholden to in their works.
As in “Darko,” he does a remarkable job of not just telling a story, but creating a wider world upon which the tale plays out. Once his chosen narrative comes to an end, the viewer is left satisfied, but still feeling they’ve only experienced a portion of what’s truly out there. This is perhaps his greatest strength, his ability to open a door into another world just wide enough to deliver the story and tantalize the audience, then close it leaving them hungry for more.
Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, some violence and disturbing images
Running time: 115