Sunday, July 25, 2010

So far out of left field, they had to build a new park

Third film by Richard Kelly (of Donnie Darko fame).  Not sure what I was expecting, going in - I knew most of the gist of it, the general expansions on Richard Mattheson's original story - which I'd already seen adapted on Twilight Zone, The Next Generation, or whatever it's called.  The basic setup of the original short story and the Twilight Zone version: a couple facing money problems is given a box by a mysterious stranger.  The box is small, with the only feature being a done covering a big red button on top.  If they press the button, they will be given a large sum of money and a total stranger will die.  The wife presses the button.  In the short story, the husband dies and the stranger explains that she never really knew he husband (groan).  The original adaptation ends with the mysterious stranger collecting the box and assuring the couple that it will be reprogrammed and given to someone they don't know.

Kelly's film version takes the Twilight Zone idea and runs with it.  Runs really, really, really far with it, since the button is pushed in the first half hour of the film, and all sorts of crazy - but surprisingly linear, considering the source - stuff happens after that.  Kelly has completely matured as a filmmaker, and he's probably going to have the career that M. Night Shaymalan keeps trying to lose.  Sure, The Box is full of a lot of the same goofy touches that made Donnie Darko kind of insufferable - in particular, the water imagery - and has one of the most over-the-top scores I've heard in a long time.  But the world it presents is interesting and textured (if not a 100% believable version of the 1976 when the story is set), the cosmology is tight and compelling, played out slowly and with building intensity.  Kelly manages to walk the fine line between the total obscurity of the plot in Darko and giving away so much that he spoils the spell that he's trying to weave (as in the director's cut of Darko, or so I've heard).  The film ends with many of the central questions only partly answered, and none of the answers are particularly heartening.

As a side note, this film is the most Twilight Zone-y film I think I've ever seen, right down to the morality tale aspect.

I completely get why this film failed to find an audience.  It builds with a vintage touch, paced like a 70's era slow burn, and the payoff is a small-scaled downer.  But if Kelly continues to display the gift for writing, pacing and structure that he shows here, I suspect his next film (if they give him another one, that is, as this only made $15 million at the box office on a $30 million budget) will find him putting it all together in a way that stays true to who he is as a filmmaker while actually being able to connect with a mass audience.


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