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3.0 out of 5 stars
The Box
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2009
"The Box" is one of those films where a lot of adjectives are necessary. It's taut and suspenseful, but it's also metaphysical, ponderous, cerebral, unexplainable, and above all, preposterous. It goes in all different directions, sometimes caught up in circles, sometimes taking detours, sometimes going completely off course. It's a bizarre, unpredictable story of intrigue and paranoia, continuously twisting and turning, pushing the limits of comprehension with a slew of seemingly unrelated concepts; we begin with a button and a suitcase full of money, but this soon gives way to spiritual quandaries and sinister science fiction subplots, the latter of which involves radio signals from Mars, physical disfigurements, and hordes of mind-controlled drones with bleeding noses. There's even an ongoing social experiment, which could be indicative of a morality play.

Based on Richard Matheson's short story "Button, Button" and its 1986 "Twilight Zone" adaptation, "The Box" takes place in Richmond, Virginia in 1976, and I honestly don't know whether or not that's a significant plot point. We meet Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden), a cash-strapped suburban couple who awaken one morning to find a plainly wrapped package left at the front door. Inside is a black wooden box topped with an encased red button. Neither one knows what to make of it until receiving a visit from the mysterious Arlington Steward (Frank Langella), who, for as yet unknown reasons, is missing the left side of his face. If the Lewis' decide to unlock the box and push the button, he explains, two things will happen: They will be given $1 million dollars in cash, and someone they don't know will die.

Will one of them push the button? It's not as if they couldn't use the money. Norma, a literature professor, learned that her school will no longer provide free tuitions for children of the faculty, which doesn't bode well for her son, Walter (Sam Oz Stone). She also has a severely damaged foot in need of repair. Arthur, a NASA scientist involved in the creation of a Mars camera, is no longer being considered for the astronaut program because he failed the psychological exam. But the fact remains: Their financial security will come at the expense of ending someone else's life. Norma tries to reason that it may be a death row inmate. Arthur tries to reason that it may be their neighbor or a baby. Heck, it may even be himself or their son. How well does she know either one of them? How well do they know her?

I'm not going to reveal whether or not the button gets pushed. I will say that, from this point on, the story ventures into even stranger territory, befuddling itself with inexplicable paranormal occurrences, gateways that may or may not lead to salvation, deeply rooted scientific conspiracies, motel rooms with maps pinned to the walls, secret wind tunnels, and a brief discussion of Sartre's vision of hell. Who is Arlington Steward? Who are the people walking around with nosebleeds? If the box is capable of being programmed, then why are there no mechanisms inside it? What's the significance of a murder that has a man on the run? Does Arthur's Mars-related research have anything to do with what's going on? Does Norma's damaged foot?

As to whether or not all the above questions are answered, I'm not entirely sure. Writer/director Richard Kelly clearly has his own ideas about logical story patterns and how they should be followed. And yet, there is something to be said for creating a sense of apprehension out of nothing at all; if you can engage the audience in spite of a cumbersome plot, if you can keep them hooked by continuously building tension, then you've made a successful film. "The Box" may be a confusing mess, but it's also one of the most absorbing mysteries I've seen all year. The plot can be deconstructed any number of ways, but I suspect we're not supposed to learn so much as experience. And we do. For a film that's neither believable nor understandable, that's quite an achievement.

The ending unfolds in yet another display of twisted logic, and it culminates in a final shot that brings up an entirely new series of questions. What's the message "The Box"? That damnation can only be avoided by resisting temptation? That humanity must be willing to sacrifice for the greater good in order to survive? That existence as we know it is just a temporary state and death is a period of transition? Or is it that there isn't a message at all, that the whole thing is just an exercise in psychological thrills? I know Kelly is aiming for something here, but unfortunately, I have no idea what that might be. No matter - what I appreciated most was the film's ability to build suspense and maintain an air of mystery. That must count for something.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2010
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
THE BOX is a masterpiece of ethical and moral dilemma masquerading as an ominous sci-fi suspense thriller. It may seem obscure and incomprehensible, but it's essentially just a story about the Golden Rule: What we do to others we do to ourselves.
The story is taken form an ironic little gem of a story by Richard Matheson (of TWILIGHT ZONE fame) called "Button, Button." The movie expands it into a Gordian Knot of obscure, seemingly unrelated events that inevitably, well... you'll see.
The central theme is altruism, which is basically the practical application of the Golden Rule (you know, do unto others as you would have them do unto you). The basic equation is that if enough people choose selfishness, eventually no one will be left. Yet I'm amazed by all the diverse interpretations and reviews, especially since the substance of the story is clearly stated at one point as the "altruism coefficient," that is, unless people learn to be altruistic they will either destroy each other or be destroyed by the mysterious extraterrestrials. A not uncommon sci-fi theme, but presented here as a brilliantly enigmatic and ominous fable that is never boring, but rather, perplexing and mesmerizing. It may have been more popular as a dark comedy, but then it would have lost much of its impact.
Unfortunately however, when a story is presented as enigmatically as this, people tend to see what they want to see, like the reviewer who totally misinterpreted it as a "scathing attack on altruism," quoting Ayn Rand's absurd, distorted definition of it. (Ayn Rand, the master of rationalization of the selfish and self-serving, nursed a lifelong disdain of altruism and empathy. Her books rationalize and justify selfishness, opportunism and exploitation, and still inspire those who exalt such traits.) But this movie is in fact a scathing indictment of selfishness.
Self-sacrifice and selflessness have been the most powerful themes in all of literature and art, including the ultimate story of self-sacrifice, that of Christ (though you'd hardly guess it judging by today's Christians).
Selfishness, on the other hand, is the primary characteristic of evil.
The quote by John Paul Sartre near the end of the movie sums it up beautifully.
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82 of 102 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2009
My friend and I spent some considerable discussion time trying to find reasons for so many poor reviews for this film. There is one thing we both agree on: The Box is an auditory focused film. In fact, with only minor adjustments to the script, it would make a great radio play. So, unless you are committed to paying a great deal of attention to every word spoken, you are bound to get lost and confused by the complex plot. In these times of short attention spans, this is an obstacle the film makers may not have taken into consideration... Pity, as the film is actually quite original and the story intriguing.

The Box is based on a 1970 short story "Button, Button" by Richard Matheson (also the author of the celebrated "I Am Legend"). A financially overextended middle class couple receives a package containing a box with a button. A strange and grossly disfigured man later visits their house and explains should they choose to press the button, they will receive $1mil, tax free. The drawback? Someone they do not know will die. The couple's actions following the man's visit, as well as the consequences of their actions, constitute the meat of the story. The why's and the who's are mostly explained, though some questions are purposefully left for each viewer's imagination to tackle. The performance is satisfactory from all leads, except Cameron Diaz. She overacts in every scene, to the point of becoming a distraction. Her casting played a major part in my downgrading the rating to 3.5 stars.

If you feel you can ignore Diaz and focus on every word of dialogue, you will be rewarded with some original thinking and a somewhat creepy film. I was entertained.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
The Box is based on a 1970 short story called "Button Button" written by horror icon Richard Matheson. The story was adapted previously as an episode of the 1980's incarnation of the Twilight Zone. Now, the problem with turning a short story into a feature film is that the story is going to have to be heavily padded, and in the case of The Box, heavily padded. A horribly disfigured man named Arlington Steward (Langella) arrives one day at the suburban Virginia home of Arthur and Norma Lewis, having previously placed a mysterious box on the couple's doorstep. Inside the box is a large red button locked under a glass dome. Steward tells the couple if they push the button two things will happen. First, they will be given one million dollars, tax free. Second, someone in the world they don't know will die. This moral test is where the similarity between film and story end.

In the original story, Norma pushes the button and a few days later her husband is killed by a train. When she asks Steward why her husband died, he tells her that she never really knew her husband. Short, direct, and to the point. Unfortunately the film is anything but direct and to the point and Matheson's story is lost in an absurd haze of alien possession, dimensional gateways, and crackpot science. Steward, we learn, is controlled by an alien intelligence that is referred to merely as "those that control the lightning".

Norma becomes obsessed with the button, starting at it for hours while she and Arthur argue the moral issue that they will be playing God with someone else's life. The rest of the film deals with the consequences of the couple's actions.

Richard Kelly's screenplay is all over the map but not once does it land at a destination that involves any logic or coherency. We get the fact that some alien intelligence is testing mankind with this game of ethical choices but Kelly, also the Director, doesn't back it up with anything tangible. The only hints we get is the film being set in the 1970's at the time of the launch of the Viking Mars probes.
Diaz is overly melodramatic although you have a fondness for the innate goodness of her character. Langella is the best thing about the film. He is equal parts sinister and sensitive, villain and hero and the film is at its best when he is onscreen.

The simple lesson here is that a ten-page story does not a film make, at least not in unskilled hands.
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45 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2009
I really didn't know what to expect from this movie considering the fact that Richard Kelly's last movie, "Southland Tales," kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. But upon the finished viewing of his latest film, "The Box," I think he has returned to the form that made me fall in love with "Donnie Darko." What a totally cerebral experience. A movie that jumps from a military experiment gone array to a noir thriller to a bout of existential looks at the causes and effects of free will and finally to a bit of theological looks at life after death. This movie completely and unequivocably held my attention throughout as any great director can do with a fantastic story. I've read quite a lot of reviews that just bomb this movie due to its confusing plot but I, for one, believe that this is highly enjoyable cinematic experience. I couldn't recommend this movie more.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: Blu-ray
I picked this movie up because a friend of mine said it looked interesting. I read the synopsis and wondered how an entire movie would come out of this concept. I threw the blu ray in and started it up. I don't put spoilers in my reviews, because I want people to see and feel the movie for themselves, so don't worry about that here. You're immediately brought into the lives of a seemingly normal American family, and this starts the story.

As I watched the events unfold I couldn't help but wonder who is who and what was connected. This for me was a good thing, as was the entire movie. It felt different, the husband/wife team had to make a choice. The best thing was thinking about what I'd do, but by the end of the movie I changed my mind and rethought some things.

All in all I don't know why everybody is giving this such a horrible review. Its not an action junkie's dream but it has its only flow and interesting material. Also the blu ray looked very impressive, crisp and clear like always...and the sound was great!

I would highly recommend this movie for a rainy day, even if its just a rental.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2011
Format: DVD
Not too much to say. This was based on Richard Matheson's Short Story "Button, Button". The short story was also adapted to the 1980s "Twilight Zone" short episode starring Mare Winningham of the same name: "Button, Button"

The movie's late 1960s setting hearkens to the largest representation of Matheson's work on the screen, Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone". Cameron Diaz's, James Marsden's acting are fine. Worth a watch. Frank Langella as the tenebrous antagonist, on the other hand, delivers a great performance. The special effects aren't terribly shocking, but they aren't too overdone either. This isn't Batman after all.

The movie isn't a horror movie. It is science fiction...kinda. It lacks a clear pigeonhole to fit into. The events surrounding the story are not true, not based on science, so I guess it could be classified as fantasy. The movie manages to exude a creepy aura that gives you a "clanging" kind of scary movie. Something like "1408", but less dramatic.

So, this movie isn't the height of science fiction or movies in general.

I would say, however watch it once. Its well done. Given what I know now, after watching it, I don't want those two hours of my life back.

Good Movie. 8.2/10
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
What makes the premise of this intriguing film so satisfying is its simplicity. A middle class couple facing financial difficulties is presented with a choice: push a button and they will be given a million dollars in cash ... and, someone they don't know will die. The problem is that the filmmakers develop an overly elaborate and inexplicably bizarre back story packed with visually intriguing ideas that never really go anywhere in order to account for why they were given the choice in the first place. It's not that it doesn't make sense, and it's not (as another reviewer suggests) that I wasn't paying attention or came into it expecting something else ... I get it and I get what Richard Kelly was going for and I actually kind of enjoyed the film all along but it didn't all add up and for many elements of the film the more you think about them the more hokey they begin to seem. Like the three watery portals that, at one point, James Marsden's character is presented with and told he must choose one and enter, with an ominous warning about the consequences of choosing incorrectly. Sure, they looked cool, but what was the point? It's not clear whether he chose correctly or what was really at stake and he just ends up somewhere else all wet and confronted with a more important question. Unlike some of the other "tests" that are given throughout the film, this one didn't have any kind of clear moral implications.

It's a fun watch, though; it's creepy and atmospheric, and kept me intrigued for the most part throughout. The look of the film captures the early '70s nicely. I liked the deliberate references to Sartre's infernal classic No Exit - and for a while it felt like the aim of the film was to reinvent the themes of that play on a larger scope. I also thought it was clever (even if a bit cynical, and with shades of misogyny) that the choice represented by the box was delivered to a woman, who ended up pressing the button but shared the consequences with her husband, and it was hard not to see the red round button as a kind of update to Eden's apple. It's just that in the end all of the metaphysical and moral weight that the film had managed to build and sustain starts to sag, and the mystery that felt like an elaborate theological and existential puzzle is mostly resolved (with a few deliberately loose ends) and you are left with an overly baroque and even somewhat silly but unfunny cosmic joke taken way too seriously (of course, that's not a bad description of life, the universe and everything from a certain point of view ... maybe that of Sartre).

Still, I don't want to leave on that note, since it strikes me as too harsh - I'm being harsh because my hopes were pretty high. Richard Kelly's got a lot of potential and has some great ideas and knows how to translate them to the screen - it's just he has too many ideas and apparently no one there to help him eliminate the excessive -- the best scripts find a way to deliver maximum intensity and reflection by the simplest means. This one, at least, is much more tight than the at times brilliant but mostly incoherent Southland Tales but lacks the simplicity of the first incarnation of Donnie Darko (I thought the director's cut of Darko showed tendencies of the problem I'm describing here: once he starts to explain the "physics" behind the intriguing concept, it starts to get hokey and over-elaborate). This latest film is well worth watching and I thought it was quite entertaining, but more on par with an overlong but decent episode of X-Files or Twilight Zone (like the one it's based on) than the intensely existential science fiction minor masterpiece it might have been.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2011
Format: DVD
An "alien" group is bound to test the souls of
the unsuspecting through the tried-and-true method
of greed further placating their twisted need
for corrupted souls.

Their power is omnipotent through the system,
easily enabling them to manipulate their targets
into financial hardship, thus making their offer
all the more appealing.

Rationalization sadly outweighs logic and Eve
presses the button, falling prey like so many
others before her. The blood sacrifice is made
and the vicious cycle continues. Drones are sent
out by the hordes gravitating to their victims,
prodding them along the predestined path, ultimately
leading to a choice of visiting the wrath upon oneself
or on one's child; a choice coinciding with another's
whose hand is near the button. A collective or
individual choice?

The mastermind/puppet claims that it's for the
betterment of mankind. It's evil in the guise of
humanitarianism with the aim of weeding out the
spiritually weak.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2010
Format: DVD
This movie isn't due all the bad comments. If you're a fan of science fiction and gripping psychological thrillers in a Hitchcock style, chances are you'll love it. I think much of the lack of praise comes from those who are looking for your average popcorn thriller and this isn't it. Yes, Cameron Diaz overacts every scene but that aside if you can pay attention to the gripping themes of the movie it's really pretty good. If you are looking for aliens and explosions this isn't for you. If you like your movies layered and don't mind having to use your brain a bit to pay attention and think about the movie after it's over I'd say check it out for sure.
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