April 30, 2010

Justify My Netflix: The Box

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The Box

Today's movie: The Box, 2009 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this is the latest by "King Of The Headscratchers" Richard Kelly, whose two previous films I've also done detailed write-ups of here in the past (2001's Donnie Darko and 2007's Southland Tales, both of them incomprehensible in their own uniquely delicious ways); and this is also the film that made Kelly famously declare that if it wasn't a commercial hit, he couldn't imagine the studios ever green-lighting another project of his, effectively bringing his career to a close. (Psst -- it wasn't a commercial hit.)

The reality: Oh, why so glum, Richard? I mean, sure, this movie turned out to be just as obtuse and challenging to most as all your other films, leading to a baffled marketing staff completely mis-selling it to the public (it's not really about whether a suburban couple in '70s Texas will or will not press a button inside a mysterious box that will kill a random stranger but garner them a million bucks, which was the element most played up in its commercials); but it's at least the most straightforward headscratcher you've now put out, an unexpectedly smart and tight metaphysical drama about space aliens running ethical tests on humanity, to determine whether we're enlightened enough yet to be given access to Star-Trek-type space-traveling technology, which I thought was made perfectly clear right in the first 30 seconds of the film itself, with that title card from a secret NASA document explaining how one of their astronauts experienced something weird out on a recent mission, and now is running around presenting a mysterious box to random strangers and his creepy million-dollar offer. That then doesn't make the above information a spoiler at all, but rather the info you're supposed to know going into the actual film, to make the premise itself a lot more understandable than with Kelly's previous projects; and believe me, even knowing what I just mentioned, there are still plenty of surprises in store for you by watching this highly effective film. Although not exactly the box-office smash he was hoping for, I can't imagine this actually driving Kelly out of the industry altogether, not an industry that has fallen so far and whose expectations are now so low; and in the meanwhile, he should be proud of himself for creating a project just as creepy and thought-provoking as Darko or Southland, but without the missing crucial info of the first or the thematic muddle of the second. It comes much recommended to both existing Kelly fans and just general fans of dark science-fiction.

Strangest piece of trivia: Canadian band Arcade Fire composed and performed this film's soundtrack.

Worth your time? Yes

Screenshot from The Box

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention one of the most delightful aspects of this film, which is Kelly's obsessive focus on visual formality here, which like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining presents a highly symmetrical and almost mathematically precise layout of elements in nearly every scene, but done in a way so that they don't call attention to themselves unless you're specifically looking for it. The beauty of this movie's blocking is almost worth the price of rental alone.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:46 AM, April 30, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |