You hold your breath for the first corduroy-clad hour of The Box wondering if it’s possible (or even advisable) to sustain such an obsession with Capricorn One. The year is 1976, both in sideburns and solid-state bric-a-brac. Two suburban Virginians, Arthur (Marsden), a high-level NASA scientist, and Norma (Diaz), his Farrah Fawcett--like schoolteacher wife, grapple with money woes. Their well-mannered teenage kid plays Monopoly while eerie Mars Viking news crams the airwaves. Not so coincidentally, a dapper dude with a ruined, lightning-struck face (Langella, channeling Tobin Bell in Saw) shows up with a mysterious “button unit” promising riches—at an ethically hazardous cost.
Who would undertake such draggy (if stubbornly intriguing) paranoia cinema? Richard Kelly might be the kind of director who had only one decent movie in him. His Donnie Darko, a moody late-2001 tale that channeled the autumnal air of difficult days, hasn’t exactly sustained a career. Southland Tales was a soporific mess, and while The Box (based on material by novelist Richard Matheson) is superior by a certain margin, Kelly derails his newfound discipline with the usual shimmering portals and hazy notions of apocalyptic sacrifice. He doesn’t seem able to understand plot, but you might find yourself shivering to a pitch-perfect Goldsmithian score by the indie rock band Arcade Fire.—Joshua Rothkopf
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