This is the second time that Richard Matheson’s ‘Button, Button’ has been adapted for the screen, and this time around even more changes have been made to his original concept (considering he wasn’t happy with the 1985 episode of The Twilight Zone, I’d be interested to find out how he feels about this take on his short story).
Richard Kelly is at the helm here, arguably trying to make amends for Southland Tales, which quietly appeared on DVD shelves here a couple of years ago. The Box is easily the most accessible of his three features, and will hopefully guarantee that he has a future in the business.
The general concept is simple, Arthur (James Marsden) and Norma Lewis (Cameron Diaz) are presented with a box. On the box is a button. If they choose to press the button, they will receive one million dollars and someone, somewhere in the world, whom they don’t know, will die. The supposed conundrum has never really seemed that clever to me – in my opinion there’s only one option open to them – but The Box treats it like a devilishly clever temptation indeed.
From there the plot does follow Matheson’s short story, though adds in a hell of lot extra (to tell you any more would be spoiling). The film is set in the 70s, and very clearly has 70s science fiction and thrillers in mind. It feels similar in tone to the likes of Capricorn One, The Conversation, The Stepford Wives and Coma – an aspect of the film I absolutely relished. Neither Cameron Diaz nor James Marsden are quite as compelling as they should be in the lead roles, though the former certainly makes up for her recent performances (What Happens in Vegas, The Holiday), which could be bluntly described as ‘that annoying drunk clothes hanger in the casino who won’t shut up’. Frank Langella has the most fun as the man offering them the choice that will change their lives whilst a large number of eerie looking featured extras do their best to follow around the lead characters like camera-less paparazzi.
I found the central mystery enthralling, though the end result is a mixed bag. As if to appease nervous studio executives, there’s a rather large and ungainly exposition in the last section of the film, though it does still leave just enough questions that I didn’t feel the Kelly had sold out. The cinematography is wonderful, as is Win Butler, Régine Chassagne and Owen Pallett’s score, which is the best I’ve heard all year.
Annoyingly, the only flaw lies in the smallest moment and has the potential to ruin the entire film. In fact, it did ruin the film for my girlfriend, who found that one tiny scene to be horribly offensive. To be honest, I didn’t notice it as first, but once it was pointed out it left me bewildered as to whether it was simply an oversight (admittedly unlikely) or it really was meant to make an archaic and disgusting statement.
Overall, this is a film that is likely to keep Kelly’s career in motion, though unlikely to generate mega bucks. If you can overlook that aforementioned moment (and I’m still struggling to do so) then you’ll enjoy this for what it is, a great science fiction thriller.Rating: