A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Cameron Diaz thriller from the director of Donnie Darko is based on a macabre premise: that human beings would rather win money than protect a stranger's life. It's too confusing and intense for tweens and young teens, and, in addition to the cloud of violence hovering over the entire movie, there are several disturbing images, including an upsetting disfigurement; two women being killed at close range; people who have eerie, unexpected nosebleeds; a fatal car accident; and gun violence. The swearing is fairly mild (one use of "s--t" is as strong as it gets), the sexuality is limited to the main couple kissing passionately and embracing, and the drinking is mostly social and done by adults. Still, most kids won't want to bother figuring out the movie's dark themes and puzzling plot.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Set in 1976, THE BOX follows Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden), a happily married couple raising a sweetly precocious son (Sam Oz Stone) in the Richmond, Virginia, suburbs. One day, the Lewises' doorbell rings at 5:45 a.m. -- but when they open the door, all that's there is package. Inside, the couple finds a mysterious wooden box with a glass dome covering a red button. That afternoon, a disfigured man named Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) informs them that they've been selected for a unique offer: They have 24 hours to decide whether to push the button and win $1 million -- and, in doing so, sentence a stranger to death -- or to do nothing and keep a $100 consolation prize. Strapped for cash, Norma eventually pushes the button ... but then immediately regrets it. The Lewises are caught up in an enigmatic cat-and-mouse game with Steward as they attempt to figure out who he's working for and how to stop the murders, since it's clear the next "stranger" to be killed could be one of them.
Is it any good?
Richard Kelly's The Box is just plain dull and uninteresting. Enigmatic thrillers with high-concept premises can lead to cinematic highs like The Usual Suspects, and those with sci-fi overtones can be cerebral like the under-appreciated Minority Report, but this movie doesn't share those qualities. Diaz and Marsden (who looks either stiff or smoldering in every scene) can't believably pull off the Southern married parents routine, Diaz's horrible attempt at a Southern accent alternately draws groans and guffaws, and the '70s accouterments -- like the awful wallpaper and Marsden's ghastly mutton chops -- don't help. At least there are glimpses of Alice and What's Happening! on the telly.
The movie's premise starts off like a Twilight Zone episode, but it soon devolves into a ridiculously schlocky conspiracy to treat humans as sociological test subjects. Even Langella, one of those dignified older actors who could ask for a bus pass and make it look interesting, is too over the top as the Grim Reaper-esque agent of doom. By the time a zombie-like crowd starts following Diaz and Marsden around a public library, it's difficult to suppress the "it's so bad, it's funny" laughter.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what the movie's experiment says about human nature. Is money more important than a stranger's life?
What would have you done given the same choice? Was what happened after the characters "hit the button" predictable?
Do movies have to be believable or relatable to be entertaining?
- In theaters: November 6, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: February 23, 2010
- Cast: Cameron Diaz, Frank Langella, James Marsden
- Director: Richard Kelly
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, some violence and disturbing images
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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