Rates: * * * 1/2
Why Did I Watch It? It was on David Sims’ ‘Unexpected Masterpieces’ list.
A suburban couple in the American 70s have a mystery box left on their doorstep in the middle of the night; an empty wooden cube, with a big push button on top. Later, they are visited by the equally mysterious Mr Steward, a polite older gent in a natty outfit who has an offer for them: push the button and they will receive $1 million…. but somewhere, somehow, a random stranger will die.
If this sounds like a set up for an old Twilight Zone episode, it pretty much is: the film is based on a short story by Richard Matheson, best known as the author of ‘I Am Legend’, but also the writer of 16 eps of the iconic TV show.
The premise is simple, and you can tell even before the button is pressed, that pressing it is a bad idea. It’s that old ‘careful what you wish for’ theme, which is potentially no more sophisticated than the Simpsons episode where they do ‘The Monkey’s Paw’.
Luckily, the film is helmed by enigmatic writer/director Richard Kelly, of ‘Donnie Darko’ fame, who brings his unique perspective to the material. Kelly adds an outlandish superstructure to the plot, which is really fun; aliens, time travel, and the first space probe landing on mars are all bundled in. If not all of this is comprehensible, it is at least constantly surprising.
The first half of the film even has some tension, as mysterious figures appear and disappear, and a shadowy conspiracy is hinted at. The only detraction is that Kelly is not able to land all of the stuff he sets up; this is one of those movies where the mystery is well established, but the ultimate explanation is a bit pedestrian.
Still, a fun and intriguing little puzzlebox. And an excellent performance from Cameron Diaz, in one of her rare dramatic roles. The stuff about her mis-shapen foot, really got me.