Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Weeks Too Late: The Box

The Box. Written & Directed by Richard Kelley.

Preconceptions: Richard Matheson is easily my favourite horror writer (his stories and novellas don't throw me down stairs nearly as often as other writers of the same genre). If you're curious, give the short story Mad House a read. Despite what happened to I Am Legend, I was still curious to see what would become of Button, Button, the short story this movie was based on. After it came out in theaters, I heard nothing about it, so I hoped I'd be able to report a missed gem for all my little cupcakes out there.

General Review: Well I can't, but not for the reasons I was expecting. A lot of the movies I see that are based on short stories add tedious padding to lengthen the ideas that worked best in a shorter format. The Box didn't fall into this category, it took the kernel of Button, Button and built another story around it. Changing the genre of story from a horror/thriller to science fiction felt like a natural progression. The new story made sense and was just as interesting. This is one of the only competent things about this movie.

Lets begin my enormous list of problems with the most overwhelming: the score. A well made movie accomplishes its atmosphere with the way it's shot, the acting and writing. This movie attempted to replace all of those elements with music. If a character was worried, there was anxious music. If they were scared, scaaaary music. It made me wonder what would happen if the character was feeling musical, perhaps a paradox in time and space? And I don't know who mixed the sounds in the Box, but they seemed to think that drowning out the characters and foley sounds (the sound effects added in post-production) was the best way to do it. And, y'know, given the truly abysmal acting and the fact that the foley sounded like something out of an old radio drama, they might not have been wrong.

So lets talk about the acting while we're on the topic. I don't really have much of an opinion of Cameron Diaz, but I remember enjoying her in Being John Malkovich. I also remember her being able to move her eyebrows and cheeks while acting. Whether it's a deliberate choice or a horrific accident of science, she can't seem to manage either anymore. What's strange is that just about every other character in the movie takes on her wooden performance style, particularly the leading man James Marsden. Their scenes together would have been more passionate and charismatic if they'd been done by spastic marionettes. At one point, we watch a brief portion of a stiltedly acted children's play. This was a whole lot more bearable. Sam Oz Stone, who played their kid, was one of the few exceptions. Defying the senior actors and possibly the director, he was lively and surprisingly funny in the brief moments he was on screen. As you all well know, it isn't usual for me to wish for a precocious child character to have more stage time, but I really did in this case.

To flagrantly steal a joke from my heroes at MST3K, don't put good sci-fi in your terrible sci-fi. The characters spent far too long talking about Arthur C. Clark and other excellent old sci-fi as though hoping it would make up for the fact that they simply couldn't live up to it. Ah, and lets not forget they also use it as a reason to clumsily crow bar the idea of the afterlife into their movie about space. I'm not objectionable to a little theology mixed into my sci-fi, I've seen it done really well in a way that made me need to sit down and have a good think about it. Not the case here.

I don't like to talk in superlatives often. There will always be a worse movie, director or actor. But this is probably the worst movie I've seen since I started this endeavor. It has almost nothing to recommend it. It was painful to sit through and I barely made it. Unless it's this or hitting yourself comically with a hammer, give it a miss.


  1. You'll be glad to know that Matheson was just as bemused with THE BOX as you and I were. The sad thing is that "Button, Button" is in there somewhere, buried beneath ninety minutes of stuff cooked up in Kelly's mind. I vividly remember seeing it in the theater with a fellow Matheson fan and just sinking lower and lower in my seat as I reached the conclusion that Kelly was making it up as he went along. For better or worse, my deadline prevented me from including THE BOX in my forthcoming book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN, but if you enjoy his work, you may want to check it out.

  2. The thing is, while this was a wretched pile, I wouldn't mind seeing a screenplay that was purely Kelly's (if someone else directed it). I'm not objectionable to exploring theology through sci-fi, it just didn't belong wrapped around this particular Matheson story.

    And since I do, I very well might. Once it's actually coming, feel free to send me a link to where I can find it (nightwren@yahoo.com).