The Box (2009)

(On DVD, May 2010) Richard Kelly is a filmmaker to approach with caution, because his capable instincts often get the better of his rational mind.  The Box coming after Donnie Darko and Southland Tales, it’s not hard to see him tackle projects that he doesn’t have the discipline to keep under control.  So it is that his latest film is, once again, an accumulation of strange and ominous portents that fail to cohere: We often see weirdness for weirdness’ sake, but our faith in whether he’ll be able to satisfyingly tie all of this together dwindles as the film slowly (very slowly) progresses.  It doesn’t help that the morality lesson at the core of the premise is so mind-numbingly stupid: Richard Matheson’s short story had the grace of being, well, short: at feature-film lengths, we get far too much time to be exasperated at the characters’ lack of suspicions.  It really doesn’t help that the nature of the latter moral dilemmas proposed to the characters is so arbitrary: From intriguing moral drama, The Box soon sinks into, basically, a demonstration of capricious powers beyond human ken.  Characters are mystified; so are viewers.  Some unsettling visions are likely to remain with viewers for a while, but the overall picture is so scattered that the pieces don’t fit together in a satisfying fashion.  Compare and contrast to The Prestige, where absurdity and ominous portents didn’t prevent the picture from making complete sense in the end.  But then again, Christopher Nolan is a far better writer/director than Richard Kelly: it’s unfair to compare the two.  Until Kelly learns some self-discipline, we’re stuck with films like The Box –not fun enough to be entertaining and not even deep enough to be intriguing except at small doses.

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