a Primal Root review
So, here’s the deal. You receive a box from an elegant older gentleman with a half eaten face who decides to play Deal or No Deal. Ready to hear the conundrum? Okay, you have a little gadget with a seductive, bright red, candy like button on the top of it. Press that button and you receive One Million Dollars in cold hard cash but some poor schmuck you’ve never laid eyes on will die because of your short sighted greedy stupidity. If you don’t press it…well, yeah, nothing happens. You get 24 hours to chew on that before the game show buzzer from hell is picked up and taken away forever.
This is the situation Norma (Ms. Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (James “Cyclops” Marsden) find themselves in back in 1976. Norma is a mild mannered disfigured school teacher whose gnarled foot she displays to her curious class in an early fetishistic scene. Her hubby Arthur works for NASA designing lenses for the Viking 1 which sends images back to Earth from the surface of Mars which brings the question of life on other planets into the equation.
Even before the button is even pressed ( I am not spoiling anything. This happens in the first 15-20 minutes) the Lewis families’ world is filled the the proverbial Richard Kelly strange shit and once pressed the strange shit gets magnified. People keep getting nose bleeds, there are suburban zombies, water portals (a recurring Kelly favorite) kidnappings, loss of senses, unexplained murder, huge leaps of logic, and the NSA. The late night gang who listens to George Noory on Coast to Coast AM will eat this stuff up with a knife and fork!
And as any rational human being would have guessed there are some dire consequences for this decision. The decision to end one human being’s life for simple monetary gain sets off a chain reaction leading to far more difficult decisions.
The Box is filled with interesting ideas that don’t seem to congeal into a solid, finished piece. Like Kelly’s debut film, Donnie Darko, the film has all the logic of a fever dream. This is the kind of stuff I love, honestly. When a film isn’t afraid to not make sense or explain itself or to hand itself over in a neat little package. The Box is not that kinda movie. It’s not easy.
It’s beautifully shot, expertly composed, unabashedly bizarre, and even well acted. Well, with the exception of Cameron Diaz, who is the canker soar on the gum line of this movie. Really, the film kept me interested as it hurled one idea after the another at me but every time Cameron Diaz showed her dopey face I was pulled right out of the film. Her acting is high school drama class caliber and is embarrassing to watch. She tries, you can see her straining to be credible, but her emotions just come off as completely false. Even in her most dramatic scenes you just can’t believe her. She needs to stick to Ashton Kutcher comedies.
Luckily, she has a damn fine supporting cast backing her up in the form of the dishearteningly underrated James “Cyclops” Marsden who gives a believable and well composed performance as the better half of the married couple. But the man who steals the show is the ever brilliant Frank Langella as the horribly scarred mystery man, Arlington Steward. This could easily have been a one note performance if handled by any other actor but Langella gives this character ominous overtones while also, somehow, being empathetic. There is a humanity behind all the formality and matter-of -factness.
Sure, The Box is weird, crazy and off kilter. It’s moody, mellow dramatic and prone to flights of fancy. But at the end of the day it’s a brain teasing mystery. Ad if there’s one thing I love it’s a mystery. I am proud that Richard Kelly stays true to what he wants his work to be and refuses to make his films easily digestible. The Box could easily be seen as a metaphor for mankind’s relationship to God or as a fable of man’s inhumanity towards man, or even simply a film about alien invasion. They are all good theories but there are no clear answers here.
The Box is a strange, pretty package filled with some sci-fi paradox’s. It is not a good film but it certainly an interesting one. At the end of the day it plays like David Lynch Lite.
-The Primal Root