I always enjoy Q&A screenings of films – you tend to pay a bit more attention to the film knowing that you can grill the director at the end of the film. (Especially when said director is going to be woken up at 3am and grilled over the phone.)
I wasn’t among the diehard fans who’d seen Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales last year, but I had seen both versions of Donnie Darko at the theatres. I wasn’t as big a fan of DD as other people – mainly because I think it’s just an excuse to encourage depressive people to kill themselves because the world would be a better place without them in it.
But I digress from The Box.
This movie was apparently based on a short story by Richard Matheson, which got made into a Twilight Zone episode, and that’s what makes this movie so enjoyable. It’s a complete throwback to the days of The Twilight Zone. It’s set in 1976 in Richmond, Virginia, and it’s awesome in so many ways. First of all, it looks 70s all the way – cars, costumes, everything. Secondly, which probably only matters to me because I’ve been there at that time of year – it looks like Virginia in the winter time. I love the trees, the houses. It adds a whole hauntingly beautiful aspect to the whole thing. And then there’s the music – it took a bit of getting used to, but the score was deliberately written in the style of Bernard Herrman, who used to write the scores for some of the early TZ episodes.
So the reason I’m telling you all this is that I want to make clear – the atmosphere of the whole thing was terrific. There wasn’t a dull frame anywhere in the film.
The problem really came from the story itself. As I understand it, Matheson’s original concept was the one that opens the film – a box gets delivered to a couple with a big red button in it. The couple are offered a choice: If they push the button, someone “who they do not know” will die but they will get $1,000,000. Or they can pass on the button and the money.
This concept is really good – and obviously enough to get me in the cinema. The problem was that it was only the beginning. The film then branched off into a second story which was related but felt completely different from the first one. I loved the second one even more, but then there was the third act of the film which tried to tie the whole thing together, but really seemed to just completely undo the reason for the middle part of the film. In fact, without too much trouble, you could have jumped from the first third of the film to the last third without too much trouble.
So my thinking is that it feels like two different stories trying to be written together because on their own, neither of them would pad out a feature-length film. So ultimately, while I loved the ideas he was playing with, I felt a bit let down at the end. Still, it looks and sounds so different from other films operating at the time, that I’d recommend having a watch of it anyway. Also, it’s deliberately been kept reasonably clean, both in terms of language, violence, etc. That’s not to say it’s not suspenseful (if not downright unsettling) in some parts, but it’s not a horror film, either.
4 out of 5.