The Box is based on the short story “Button, Button” by Richard Matheson. This isn’t the first time the story has been adapted to the screen, having been done before during the first revival of The Twilight Zone back in the 1980s (in an episode entitled “Button, Button”). I saw the episode during a Twilight Zone marathon this past summer and thought it was an interesting psychological story; so when I heard there was going to be a film adaptation I thought it had potential.
The Box follows Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (James Marsden) who receive a mysterious package on their doorstep very early one morning. There’s also a note that states a Mr. Steward will be visiting them later in the day with instructions. They open the package and find what appears to be simple wooden box with a button on top.
It turns out it’s not so simple. When Mr. Steward (Frank Langella) arrives he tells the Lewises that if they press the button, they will receive a million dollars, but somewhere, someone they do not know will die. The Lewises are going through financial hard times, so it’s not a simple “yes” or “no” to the proposal. So they discuss whether they should press the button, because if they press the button someone will die; if they don’t press the button, the box will be retrieved, reprogrammed, and given to someone else who will get the same proposal. The question then becomes: if someone else gets the box, what’s to stop them from pushing it and getting the million dollars and one of the Lewises becoming the victim if they don’t know the new recipient?
The box is part of a much larger plot than anyone can imagine. After the Lewises make their decision, they keep running into people who have also participated in this “experiment.” The other participants try to warn them, but these participants seem to meet their end before our protagonists can understand what they are trying to enlighten them about.
The movie is a psychological thriller that tests people’s morality. Cameron Diaz follows My Sister’s Keeper with another strong performance in a dramatic role, proving that she can handle more than comedy and might be following in the footsteps of Tom Hanks and Jim Carrey. James Marsden turns in a believable performance as a man who is caught in a psychological and moral challenge, while Frank Langella is very convincing as the creepy overseer of the box.
However, while The Box starts strong with an interesting concept and takes some interesting turns and twists, the final third of the film devolves into something out of a bad episode of The X-Files, with paranoia, conspiracies, and things not of this world. After a strong start with good performances by the stars, the resolution will leave you scratching your head and asking “huh?”
As for extras, the only extra is a short (under five minutes) featurette “In His Own Words" with Richard Matheson, who talks about writing as he was growing up, how he got the idea for “Button, Button” and encounters he’s had with fans. This was a nice featurette, but it would have been nice if there were more extras. If you want more extras you’ll need to check out the Blu-ray edition which I understand has a commentary and several featurettes about the making of the film.