A box shows up on your doorstep. The box has a button on it. If you press the button, two things happen. Firstly, you will receive one million dollars, tax-free. Secondly, someone who you don’t know will die. What will you do with the box? Could you live with the fact that you caused someone else’s death?
This is the situation that our leads in The Box find themselves in.. Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden respectively) are a couple struggling to get by in life. They live paycheck to paycheck, and they constantly worry about their finances. The offer they are given is a blessing, should they choose to press the button. What does it matter if some random person dies anyway?
I don’t believe telling you that they push the button is a spoiler, considering the film would be short and uninteresting if they didn’t. They do press the button, and they receive their payment. This isn’t the end of things though. The couple begins to question if they are being stalked by the man who gave them the box, Arlington Steward (Frank Langella), and if they will suffer any repercussions from pushing the button.
The Box is a film that I almost wish to spoil, just so that I can discuss a second moral choice that comes up late in the film, and why, to me, it didn’t even seem like a decision that required thinking about. I’ll say this: the couple’s son is put in danger, and Arthur has to make a choice between his son and his wife. The reason that this isn’t a hard decision is that the son is such an incredibly annoying person, while Norma is a nice character.
The characterization in The Box is kind of odd. Norma and Arthur are good people, down on their luck. The couple’s son is the worst character, not listening to his parents, always being nosy and just generally being an unlikable character. The main villain, played wonderfully by Frank Langella, is a polite businessman. He offers them a choice, one that, as we are told, has severe ramifications in regards the entirety of the human race.
It quickly becomes apparent that Steward isn’t exactly who he says he is–not that he says much. He has both employees and employers, with us only getting to see the people who fall into the latter category. In fact, his employers don’t really matter, despite the film’s attempts to convince us otherwise.
There is an entire subplot/mystery that deals with who is really behind “the box”, and the job that is assigned to Steward. The film makes us wonder if aliens are involved, or if an advanced civilization is behind it. We don’t get to find out, but the likely explanation is aliens. There are many hints pointing in this direction throughout the film, but the thing is, it doesn’t really matter, as there is no conclusion to this story, nor is there really any point to it.
That happens with a couple of other side plots as well. There is something wrong with Norma’s right foot; her doctor left the x-ray machine on for too long and four of her toes had to be amputated. Arthur spends a great deal of time creating something to make it easier for her to walk. Then he gives it to her, and she is happy, and that’s about the end of it. It happens, and is done with, not furthering the story or characters, except to make us continue to realize that they aren’t bad people.
Having a lot of plot points go nowhere ends up contributing to its biggest problem, its length. The film is just too long to hold total interest. It starts off slow, but ends up kicking it into high gear before too long. It keeps up this pacing for the first hour, but starts slowing down way before it was ready to end. There are too many points that didn’t matter in the end, and the film just ended up being too long and boring when the initial mystery surrounding the box was over.
Performance-wise, we’ve got a mixed bag. Frank Langella plays the bad guy, and he is really good. He gives off a really creepy feeling, despite being charming at the same time. Diaz, on the other hand, gives a melodramatic performance, always seeming sad, whether or not the situation actually calls for that emotion. Marsden is fine, playing his character just about how he should be played.
The Box isn’t a great film, but it isn’t terrible either. It has some good moments, and it is, for the most part, entertaining. It does run a bit too long, having plot points that don’t matter, but the concept is intriguing, to say the least. The main villain is really fun to watch, but the rest of the characters are quite odd. It’s not a great watch, but it’s a film that can be entertaining enough to warrant one.