Monday, July 4, 2022

You Really Push My Buttons

There's a strong argument for setting any genre film in the past because it saves your writer the trouble of explaining away cell phones and the internet. More importantly, if you choose the 1970s, it lets your set and costume team go WILD.

Quick Plot: It's 1976 in Richmond, Virginia, where attractive but sad Norma and Arthur Lewis are struggling to financially stay above water. He's a NASA scientist with astronaut dreams, while she teaches at a private academy for the tuition discount. When the school changes its policy and Arthur's application is rejected on "psychological grounds" (which are never mentioned again), the Lewises reach desperation.

It's a perfectly timed worst-case-scenario because on that very day, who should arrive but a half-faced Frank Langella bearing a mystery gift: a simple box with a big clown nose button and a million dollar proposition: push it and win a briefcase of tax-free cash knowing someone you've never met will die because of your action.

Norma and Arthur are nice, earnest people cemented into a lifestyle they can't really afford. She suffered a horrible accident in her teens that left her with a few less toes and a permanent limp, while his grandest dreams of scientific exploration are shattered in a way the movie never seems ready to address. They just want what's best for their family, so you can almost understand why Norma, tired from a day of teaching existentialism to sulking teenagers (we've all been there), can't stop herself from pressing down.

What follows is...odd, but if you're familiar with the work of writer/director Richard E. Kelly, probably what you'd expect from the Donnie Darko creator tackling a Richard Matheson short story. There are NASA conspiracies and religious miracles, kidnapping plots and possessed nose-bleeding babysitters, beautifully staged historical library sequences and lots - and I mean LOTS - of distractingly '70s wallpaper scene-stealing.

And I haven't even brought up the southern accents.

Did I enjoy The Box? Most certainly. Is The Box a good movie? No, I would say not. It's ambitious without a solid plan, much like most of Kelly's catalog. But it's also incredibly bizarre, which is a refreshing thing to find in mid-budget studio horror. 

High Points
If you're going to make a convoluted and confused thriller, you might as well make it visually interesting, and that's definitely the case here. From the woe of '70s era bridesmaids dresses to the genuine beauty of some classic southern libraries, The Box has some ace production design that goes a long way

Low Points
Seriously: this plot is a mess, and if forced to give an actual explanation of what goes on in this film, I would receive a failing grade

Lessons learned
To a kid, 35 is old

You ALWAYS get the license plate number

Nothing says Merry Christmas like a production of Jean Paul Sartyr's existential classic No Exit!

I had never heard any ringing endorsements for this now 13-year-old film, but I'm glad I finally gave it a go on the Kanopy streaming service. It's definitely a mess, but not a boring one, and I'll take it. 


  1. I've never heard of this, and I agree with your take -- it looks kinda dumb but a lot of fun! Just added it to my list.

    Side note, I love Kanopy. It's got some neat, obscure, artsy stuff on it. And it's free!! Unreal.

    1. My favorite aspect of Kanopy is that it's library-based and has the tagline of "Thoughtful Entertainment" as if it's all educational, and yet the first thing I watched on there was Fulci's The New York Ripper. GLORIOUS!