Sunday, November 8, 2009



A weird guy knocks on your door one morning and offers you a box. It’s got a bright red button covered by a locked lid. Weird guy tells you that if you press the button, two things will happen: you’ll be given one million dollars cash (tax free!), and somewhere, someone who you do not know will die. Seems like a cool movie doesn’t it? Too bad it doesn’t end there.

Allow me to fill in a few details. The couple who’s door gets knocked are Arthur (James Marsden)and Norma (Cameron Diaz). They have some slight financial burdens, but I emphasize the word slight. The weird guy is Mr. Steward (Frank Langhella). A polite, well dressed, soft-spoken man, with about a quarter of his face horribly disfigured. Arthur and Norma hum and haw for a few hours, but since the only have a day to press-or-not-press, a decision has to be made. Norma presses the button. True to his word, Steward returns, takes back the box, and gives them the cash. When asked what will happen to the device now, he says that it will be reprogrammed…and given to someone, somewhere, who Norma and Arthur do not know. (Dun-dun-duhhhhhhhhhhh….).

Friends, if this movie ended with that, I’d probably be raving about it. Unfortunately, at this point the story takes us by the hand and leads us down a rabbit hole that includes strangers who silently stare, random nosebleeds, wet gateways to other dimensions, and a fatal incident caused by Santa Claus. Yes, really.

The WTF factor of this movie is so far off the chart that when the weird went pro in the final act, I found myself shrugging and saying “Sure. Why not?”. I mean really, after Norma wakes up in her bed to find Arthur hovering over her in an invisible cube of water (which then disintegrates, dropping Arthur, and drenching half their house)…what’s another bleeding nose stranger, or five?

Talking to people about this movie, I got a lot of snee’s at how bad Cameron Diaz must be in the film (wow is she ever unpopular these days!). I myself am also not a fan, but I have to quote the great science fiction writer and report that her work in THE BOX is “mostly harmless.” Speaking of acting, the only bright spot in the film has to be Frank Langella, who will charm your pants off and give you the heebie-jeebies all in one go. The man is a consummate pro, and for him to rise above this steaming pile of peculiarity without so much as a brown smudge is a true testament to his acting chops.

The blame for this skidmark must go to writer/director Richard Kelly. I’ve never been one to demand that every ounce of a movie make complete sense. I’ve actually often compared absurd film plots to songs whose lyrics don’t make sense. Think about it; you probably don’t have the foggiest idea what tangerine dreams and marmalade skies are…but they sure sound pretty when John Lennon sings about them, don’t they?

The difference, I believe, comes down to whimsy and elegance. Kelly must have combed the deepest corners of his imagination for the sci-fi oddities that unfold in this movie. However, none of them - the glowing water portals, the cryptic messages, the devil’s bargains – inspire or amuse. All they do is confound and insult. Kelly’s adaptation is not a fable with twists added in an effort to be imaginative. It is weird for the sake of weird, and it belittles its audience.

Admittedly, the story of the button experiment did spark my interest. When I looked into it, I discovered that the film is based on a short story from 1970 written by Richard Matheson. That story had a radically different ending (look it up – it’s pretty good). The story was then adapted into a teleplay for an episode of “The Twilight Zone” in 1986. The ending for that adaptation does happen in this movie, but it occurs long before most of the oddity shifts into high gear. In my research, I discovered that Matheson was never pleased with what happened to his story when it got adapted for “The Twilight Zone”.

If he didn’t like that TV show, I can only imagine how much he despised this movie!

- The Mad Hatter

Read more from the Mad Hatter here.

The Mediasaurs Main Page

Contact M-Rex here