Richard Kelly's THE BOX is D.O.A?

Just under $8 million for Kelly's latest preposterous and pseudo-intellectual offering leaves the Donnie Darko director at the bottom of the Hollywood ladder.

As the trailer suggested, Richard Kelly's third preposterous and pseudo-intellectual offering The Box takes the simple premise of the button pushing Richard Matheson written morality play and turns it into a multi-layered mind-fuck that is strictly not for everyone. That's the general consensus from most of the reviews, good or bad (mostly bad) over at Rotten Tomatoes. At this point it would seem that Kelly is just too"out there" for a mainstream hit. He's got too many philosophical ideas to play around with in the stories he wants to tell and his upbringing (I'm guessing) on the works of Stanley Kubrick, Hitchcock's Vertigo and the writings of author Kurt Vonnegut have so influenced him that he won't ever control his instincts and tell a simple straight forward story from A-Z. 00025252Frank Langella (left) can take all of Cameron Diaz's (right) troubles away with a tax-free $1 million, if she would only press the button. The catch: a stranger who she doesn't know, will perish. I warned Kelly that he couldn't carry on his ways over two years ago (jeez, this movie has taken a long time to get into theatres... what does that tell you?) and that simplicity was what his battered and bruised career so badly needed. Back then I said...
If I was advising Kelly, I would tell him to get stuck in and make as simple and coherent horror movie as possible which is less about gimmicks and more about telling a good horror story. Kelly could really do with a commercial hit here after the fiasco that is Southland Tales otherwise he€™s going to struggle to find work in the future.
Instead, Kelly once again went on his own tangent and The Box is looking at an $8 million haul for it's opening weekend. Media Rights Capital gave up $25 million to Kelly in a risky move a few years back to adapt Matheson's short story, and Kelly will only get that money back to them if the DVD release takes off. Kelly, of whom so much was expected when Donnie Darko became a cult DVD hit more years ago then he would probably care to admit... is back down in the dumps once again. One wonders if his career will ever recover from the double whammy flops of Southland Tales (which was such a well publicized failure) and now The Box. At 34, he's still young and presumably got so many more movies left in him and I think the whole Internet community were all rooting for him on this one. But it wasn't to be. box-firstlook-062Just where does Richard Kelly's career go from here? A review over at The Playlist is the best I've read today and it explores the troublesome third act of Kelly's movie, which Matheson's short, and The Twilight Zone's 30 minute adapted t.v. translation never required...
A confounding (and not entirely interesting) mystery unfolds regarding the strange button man, his motivations and intentions, but either Kelly won't fully say what's going on, or he can't fully articulate it himself, because the second half is a largely eye-rolling mess of ideas crammed together once more in hopes of somehow trying to pass off the bemusing abstraction as profundity. There's a conspiracy at work (much of it is rather familiar and delivered as though going through the motions): a super powered man from NASA who was struck by lightning that died, then resurrected; zombie-like "employees" who bleed from their nose; a wormhole (with exact "Donnie Darko"-like leftover effects), and a looping tragedy that is doomed to repeat itself. Why? After a certain point of guffawing and head-shaking with mild disappointment, you sort of give up bothering to figure out what this thick-headed story is actually trying to say or accomplish.
Not the wormholes again Kelly - surely not?
One could call Kelly pretentious, but that would suggest the filmmaker possesses an artistry that he does not. To call the film inscrutable is to suggest there's something complex here at work (even using the word "abstraction" is far too generous a term). Even worse, there's always a very stilted tonally-off air to Kelly's work that often begats unintentional laughter, and "The Box," is similar in that respect. It's as if he's making sci-fi films with lifeless porn actors that don't know how to deliver lines.
I kind of remember Kelly making reference to a Roman Polanksi-esque slow building creepy thriller when he was in pre-production on The Box but God knows what happened to that. It's not all doom and gloom amongst the critics though, a lot of them like it's absurdity. Roger Ebert claims he enjoyed it, to a point anyway. He says he was "involved and intrigued" and ponders whether the movie is so ridiculous in some of it's plot directions that it was actually entertaining. Drew McWeeny also liked it, calling The Box better than Donnie Darko.

I haven't seen the movie myself yet, it's only recently got a deal to be screened in this country where it will play from Dec. 4th. I have actually been invited to see the movie early next week but that would involve a mid-week 3 hour train journey to London, a 1 hour tube head scratching labyrinth, plus a night in a hotel and the return train journey back. Worth it for The Dark Knight but for The Box three weeks early? I think I'll wait it out and see it when it hits over here.

Matt Holmes is the co-founder of What Culture, formerly known as Obsessed With Film. He has been blogging about pop culture and entertainment since 2006 and has written over 10,000 articles.