Richard Kelly debuted in 2001 with Donnie Darko, a film that slipped in and out of theaters with little notice but soon developed a sizable cult following. Kelly followed it with Southland Tales, a shove-in-every-idea-and-then-some sort of movie that took a slower path to the same destination: Though dismissed at the time, it’s also picked up a devoted cult. Will The Box get there? Kelly’s third and to-date last feature, the film adapts a Richard Matheson short story and was, in Kelly’s words, crafted as a more commercial sort of supernatural thriller. That didn’t go according to plan: The Box earned mostly negative reviews, picked up the rare “F” rating from Cinemascore, and did poor business. Which is really too bad. It’s, to my eyes, a really interesting film filled with intriguing ideas and memorable visuals.
Cameron Diaz and James Marsden co-star as a financially overextended 1970s couple who receive a box with a button on top, only to learn from the mysterious Mr. Steward (Frank Langella) that if they push it, they’ll receive $1 million—but someone, somewhere will die. It’s a classic Twilight Zone-type scenario, and was turned into an episode of the show during its 1980s revival. But The Box soon veers from that simple set-up and brings in NASA, a mission to Mars, and a tone of 1970s paranoia to match its setting. It’s a mess, sure, but it’s a deeply compelling mess that could use a little more love from seekers of strange cinema than it’s yet received. Someone needs to make this cult happen.
Here’s the trailer: