Horrortoberfest ’21 Day 3 – The Box (2009)

The last two days have been about watching movies that I’d only heard good things about and, of course, being delighted to see that the hype was true. Today’s pick is one that has been sitting in my “to watch” queue for years but not because I had any thoughts that it might actually be good. Mostly, I just wanted to see how they took a high school ethics question and managed to turn it into a full 2 hour long movie.

The basic premise for the movie is Frank Langella gives you a box and the morality question of “If you could press a button and get a million dollars but someone in the world you don’t know would die; would you press the button?” The movie’s main characters answer that question fairly quickly and then the movie keeps going. What starts as a fairly straightforward idea then begins to absolutely spiral out of control with NASA, the NSA, and all sorts of nonsense that I can’t even begin to explain without getting into spoiler territory so SPOILERS AHEAD.

The movie is based on a short story and you can definitely tell that. What should have been maybe an episode of the Twilight Zone at best gets stretched way beyond what the premise can hold. The main idea is that aliens or god or something is testing humanity and the correct answer is “Don’t press the button.” In order to tack an additional hour onto the run time, we get a lot of chasing around looking for answers until the movie just decides to have an NSA guy exposition it at the camera. It gets so cluttered with things like mind control and super technology and the afterlife during the entire middle part of this movie that you start not caring anymore.

There are several things that you can point to that aren’t the best in this. Cameron Diaz’s disappearing/reappearing Southern accent, for one. The worst, however, is the ending where we get confirmation of how the whole box death thing works. To sum it up, a single child family gets the box, if they press it then they get the money but make Frank Langella sad and then wacky bullshit happens until Frank comes back and says that he made your kid blind and deaf but if you kill your spouse then the kid gets their senses back and so the murdered spouse is the death for the next button push. There are multiple reasons why this is just the worst.

First reason is because it makes having a disability that people actually have into some kind of unimaginable calamity that surely it would be better to murder your wife than have a child grow up with both parents but deaf and blind. Second, the movie wants to make it seem like murdering your spouse is the correct moral choice and that’s just a very strange take. Finally, and most annoyingly, they cut back and forth between a couple that has the box now and James Marsden putting a gun to his wife’s chest. When the couple presses the button, that’s when he fires the bullet, killing his wife. Which makes the test seem entirely deterministic. If Marsden didn’t shoot his wife would the other couple not have hit the button? If the couple hit the button but Marsden doesn’t shoot, does Langella have to go kill someone himself? If someone doesn’t press the button, how can you set up the death for the next people since it’s tied into the fact that the previous couple fucked up and hit the button? It’s infuriating to have something be a “moral test” if the outcome is already determined.

Anyway, I got a bit rambly there but the movie just happened to touch on one of my annoyances where a movie tries too hard to tie everything together but screws up their own premise in the process. You for sure don’t need to see this.

Score: 2.5 out of 5

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