Existential Horror, 70s-Style in Richard Kelly’s ‘The Box’

I recently saw The Box, a movie by Donnie Darko’s director Richard Kelly, and starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden. It was on TV, interrupted by commercials for inane things, so I didn’t get the full immersive effect. I don’t think it was a great movie, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was very, very disturbing and mind-trippy.  I won’t rehash the plot, which expands a Twilight Zone style idea/moral quandary, complete with a MacGuffin.

It’s set in the 70s and evokes the feel of the horror movies of the 70s, not just in the costumes (feathered hair, leisure suits) but also in the pacing and the exquisitely crafted mood of dread. The film is wan and washed out and there’s a kind of cinema verite flatness to the acting. Frank Langella, as a Satan character, is terrifying both in his disfigurement and his understated menace. Weird scenes of possession combined with vintage sci-fi effects (sterile, all white labs, portals of hover water) are a complete homage to such horror classics as The Exorcist, The Omen and even Trilogy of Terror. The horror is existential, as the sinister back-story is slowly revealed, and as a viewer, you have to put some of the pieces together.

The Box is not a great film, but it does stick with you.

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