Monday 7 December 2009

Review: The Box

Year: 2009
Director: Richard Kelly
Screenplay: Richard Kelly
Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella

Synopsis is here

One word I would avoid when describing the still young film career of Richard Kelly is ordinary. Donnie Darko decided to meld Lynchian tones with Breakfast Club sensibilities, while the schizophrenic nature of Southland Tales may not gel completely but still stands out as one of the more ambitious ventures in 2006's cannon of cinema. The Box comes 3 years later and even now with his most "accessible" work the young director still manages to find ways of making his mark on the film.

The Box goes against the grain when it comes to modern sci-fi, with Kelly setting the film in the 70's and invoking the unnerving paranoid feelings of older sci-fi hits. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) springs to mind, although the film is not as focused as Phillip Kaufman creepy thriller, Kelly goes about developing a film which has a similar vibe of unease. It asks a lot of questions (maybe one too many) but doesn't try to answer all of them. Most of the time this would annoy me but not here. Why? I'm not entirely sure yet. It may be because with this film, Kelly concentrates on capturing a mood that isn't as commonly found as it used to be. It might be because this film despite all it's conspiracy theory trappings, the movie is quite effective with it's emotional responses to it's primary question (although the acting is at times uneven*). It might also be the fact that Kellys direction is a little more attentive to the audience and slightly less self-indulgent. Either/or The Box is a thriller which is tightly wound, well paced has enough unsettling moments to keep the film entertaining.

The Box has it's flaws in the way of it's intrusive score from members of Arcade Fire (I band I don't mind) and it's placement of the films story. Setting in the film in Virgina gives the two leads of M and Diaz affected accents that are unbelievable and effect for the most part their enjoyable performances.

Monthly publication Sight and Sound disliked the fact that Kelly's 70's setting has been taken too much from pop culture to be believable. I disagree, as the film is meant to be a pulpy fun feature not to be taken to heart. The Box is a drumming to a different beat and isn't meant to be observed so strenuously. For the most part it's ambiguous, B movie-style nature works and when Kelly reigns in some of those more indulgent urges of his (a lot Darko motifs appear for no reason other than we've seen them before) the film is a actually a well made two hour diversion. Now if he can just narrow the theorizing down to about one or two selective stories, he'll be back in business.

Note: I still find it hard to believe that someone who works quite high at NASA and a teacher are living paycheck to paycheck. Kelly doesn't do a great job showing the desperation. This may effect how one may view why the button is pressed.

*Frank Langella however is wonderfully sinister.