It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
I know, I know, "The Box" triumphantly qualifies for one of my favorite adjectives, "preposterous." But if you make a preposterous movie that isn't boring, I count that as some kind of a triumph. This one begins as traditional science fiction and branches out into radio signals from Mars, nosebleeds, Sartre's theories about free will, amputated toes, NASA, the National Security Agency, wind tunnels, murders, black Town Cars, obnoxious waiters, and a mysterious stranger.
His name is Arlington Lewis Steward. He drops a box on the front porch of Norma and Arthur Lewis, and returns with an offer: If they push the button on top of the box, they will be paid $1 million in crisp $100 bills ("non-taxable"), but unfortunately, someone not known to them will die. Well, what would you do? Norma has just learned their son's tuition is going up, and Arthur has been dropped from astronaut training. The hell with it: Norma, so sweet and earnest, pushes the button.
This sets into motion a chain of events that I will not describe for you even if I could. The writer-director, Richard Kelly, goes from A to Z using 52 letters, but his transitions flow so uncannily it's only when you look back that you realize you're off the road. Everything, including some impressive high-tech rocket science, is taken so seriously that you get sucked in. There's also the matter of the 360-degree camera that Arthur Lewis has designed for the Mars Lander. Well, what about it? After you've seen the movie, you tell me. At least the nosebleeds are explained.
"The Box" is based on the story of the same name by Richard Matheson, published by Playboy in 1970. It inspired a simpler adaptation for a Twilight Zone episode in 1986, which had a different ending but a very similar box design. Well, what can you do with a box with a button on top? Matheson, who has three films in pre-production at 83, has inspired or written at least 23 films ("I am Legend" has been made three times) and countless TV episodes.