Saturday, November 7, 2009

Review: 'The Box' [B-]

By Chase Kahn

Richard Kelly's The Box is even crazier and supernaturally driven than I expected, and that's entirely meant as a compliment. It's strictly wacko science-fiction lore, steeped in philosophy and otherwordly activity -- any attempt by the film's trailer to play up its horror elements is misleading. It's basically a two-hour Twilight Zone episode.

Kelly is a stylist, without question. Ever since his debut, Donnie Darko, he's established himself as a perpetrator of dangerously illogical narratives, leaned on by an overwhelming sense of style and nerve. He's also thoroughly obsessed with quantum physics, alternate dimensions, destiny and choice. Often, his films play out like mash-ups of trashy science-fiction novels played with the utmost sincerity.

However, The Box is just weighed down far too often by these deep, metaphysical detours and forked roads. I welcome them, it's what gives this film an edge over most PG-13 films of its ilk, but this is an example of Kelly overload. For Darko, he wrapped a time-traveling spin around a 80's teenage coming-of-age drama that was essentially about second chances. By the time the film ended, despite the excesses, it worked. Here, it seems Kelly is just trying to throw things against the wall to see if it sticks. We don't need NASA backstories and Mars expeditions for a simple social experiment, do we?

Despite nearly busting at the seams throughout various points of the film, there are several reason why The Box still half-works. One are the respectable performances of both Cameron Diaz and James Marsden, who are never played for idiots. The other is Kelly's smooth, exacting and potent direction.

Contrary to what his wild script is digging up, his camera is unflinching and effectively steady and sure-handed. Each frame seems to linger and suggest the worst, matched stride for stride by the delicate, suspicious original score by Win Butler, Owen Pallette and Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire.

Like the clean-cut, imposing package sent to Mr and Mrs. Lewis at their doorstep, The Box is formidably and indelibly composed on the outside. Underneath (contradictory to what is found to be inside) it's a mess of superfluous wires and circuits and motherboards -- after all, why do we need all of this just to press a button?

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