The Box (2009 film)  

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The Box is a 2009 American science fictionthriller/horror based on the 1970 short story "Button, Button" by Richard Matheson, which was previously adapted into an episode of the 1980s incarnation of The Twilight Zone. The film is written and directed by Richard Kelly and stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as a couple who receive a box from a mysterious man who offers them one million dollars if they press the button sealed within the dome on top of the box. Production for the film began in November 2007 and concluded in February 2008.



In 1976, Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (James Marsden), an impoverished couple, wake to find a package on the doorstep. Inside the package is a locked wooden box with a button and a note that reads: "Mr. Steward will call upon you at 5:00 pm". Promptly at five, Steward (Frank Langella), a middle aged, facially disfigured man, arrives. He tells Norma that, if the button is pushed, he will give her one million dollars, but someone in the world, whom she does not know, will die. After much deliberation, Norma pushes the button on an impulse. Meanwhile, many miles away, the police are called to investigate a report of shots being fired, only to discover that the man who lived in the house, Jeffrey (Ryan Woodle), has killed his wife and fled, leaving his daughter locked in the bathroom. Steward then returns to give Norma and Arthur the money, informing them that they will not know the person who next receives the offer, leaving open the possibility that one of them, or their young son, may be the next victim.

At Norma's sister's wedding rehearsal dinner, there is a confusing and mysterious turn of events. Arthur wins a chance to select a present from a pool provided by the guests, and he sees a plain brown box that looks exactly like Steward's box. He opens it to find a photo of Steward before his disfigurement. Arthur asks Norma's father, a police officer, to run the license plate number of Steward's car.

After returning home, Arthur drives the babysitter home. She tells Arthur to "look into the light" to solve his problems. Her nose begins to bleed, and she passes out. Later, at a supermarket, Norma is approached by a woman who tells her to look up a certain call number in the library and not to trust anyone, even her own husband. The woman then passes out with a bloody nose. Norma's father tells Arthur that Steward's car is registered to the National Security Agency (NSA) and allows Arthur to visit the house where Jeffrey killed his wife and left his daughter locked in the bathroom. There, Arthur finds pictures of Steward and a Human Resource Exploitation Manual along with a library call number.

Separately, Norma and Arthur visit the library. Arthur approaches a woman he learns is Steward's wife (Deborah Rush), and she leads Arthur to a room that has three water coffins made of hovering water. Two lead to eternal damnation, while the other leads to salvation. Arthur enters one of the gateways. Norma is led by two women to Steward, who informs Norma that he was struck by lightning and can now communicate with "those who control the lightning". She wakes up and finds herself back at home in her bed. Above her, Arthur hovers within a rectangular water module that suddenly bursts.

Back at the NSA, the NSA Chief and Arthur's boss from NASA are discussing Steward. They say he was struck by lightning and died shortly after; but, hours later in the morgue, a nurse heard Steward laughing. He was transferred to a military hospital where his body seemed to regenerate faster than normal, with cellular degeneration halting.

At the wedding reception of Norma's sister, their son Walter (Sam Oz Stone) is kidnapped. Arthur is forced to leave the reception at gunpoint by the wife-killer Jeffrey, who is, in fact, a former NASA employee. He reveals to Arthur that he had been forced to choose between his wife and his daughter. He also shows Arthur the Human Resource Exploitation Manual seen in the pictures earlier, which contains, among other things, a diagram of the three water portals. Meanwhile, NSA employees are seen rounding up large groups of people, including Walter, and leading them into enormous portals of water similar to the ones at the library. Steward is overseeing the process; by his side are several boxes, identical to the one he had given Norma. Through a discussion with one of his subordinates, the boxes are revealed to be part of an experiment, conducted by "those who control the lightning" to learn whether the majority of the human race is capable of putting other people's lives before personal gain. If the results of the test show that the majority of subjects push the button, the human race will be exterminated. Steward also reveals that all the test subjects are couples under 40 years of age with one child.

Arthur and Norma return home and find Steward, who offers them a final choice. Their son Walter is now deaf and blind, as a result of being taken underwater at a motel swimming pool, and locked in the upstairs bathroom. They can either live on with their million dollars and their disabled son, or Arthur can shoot Norma through the heart, at which point Walter's sight and hearing will be restored and the money will be placed in an interest-bearing bank account for Walter, to be given to him on his 18th birthday. The couple runs to the upstairs bathroom where they can hear their son struggling and calling for them, but he cannot hear them calling back to him. Norma refuses to see her son suffer, and begs Arthur to shoot her. Arthur agrees, and, as he shoots his wife, another couple far away pushes the button on their box. The police arrive and arrest Arthur, while Walter regains consciousness and calls out. As Arthur is taken from his home, Steward leaves the other couple's house. NSA agents and Arthur's boss arrive at Arthur's house. Arthur's boss assures Arthur that his son Walter will receive good care. Arthur is taken away and Walter is shown through an upstairs window in the home with his grandfather (Holmes Osborne) standing behind him. The final scene shows Arlington Steward standing next to his car after delivering another box to an unsuspecting couple who have pushed the button.



In December 2008, it was announced that Win Butler and Regine Chassagne of Canadian band Arcade Fire, and Owen Pallett provided an original score for the film. Butler, Chassagne, and Pallett helped Kelly during the editing process by advising his decisions. As of November 2009, the soundtrack has not been released nor been set for release. Butler, Chassagne, and Pallett plan on releasing the soundtrack but probably not until after Arcade Fire's third album release in 2010.


The film received mixed reviews from film critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 44% of 124 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5 out of 10. The site's consensus is that "Imaginative but often preposterous, The Box features some thrills but largely feels too piecemeal." Among Rotten Tomatoes' "Top Critics", which consists of popular and notable critics from the top newspapers, websites, television and radio programs, the film holds an overall approval rating of 33%, based on a sample of 15 reviews. Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from film critics, has a rating score of 47 based on 24 reviews.

American film critic Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars overall saying, "This movie kept me involved and intrigued, and for that I'm grateful." Market research firm CinemaScore reported that the film receives very negative feedback. The Box received an F, for which CinemaScore President Ed Mintz blamed the film's ending and was quoted as saying "People really thought this was a stinker".

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