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Now streaming: Stephen Cone's Black Box

Written by
Michael Smith

Newly released on a variety of digital platforms by the distributor Devolver Digital is Black Box, a haunting drama by Chicago writer/director Stephen Cone (The Wise Kids) set in the world of college theater. Holly (played by Josephine Decker) is a grad student at an unnamed Midwestern college who tackles the ambitious project of directing a theatrical version of her own adaptation of a cult young adult novel entitled The Reaper’s Children. The novel, about the sinister goings-on at an orphanage, apparently made a huge impression on Holly during her formative years and the gothic-horror tone of her production has an uncanny way of both bleeding into the lives of its performers as well as informing the overall tone of Cone’s (ostensibly non-horror) film.

Black Box absolutely nails the drama inherent in the collaborative nature of putting on a play; fittingly, Cone gives equal weight to all of the fine performers in his large ensemble cast, whose characters deal with various romantic entanglements and struggles with sexual identity and religious issues. The film, however, belongs to elderly character actor Austin Pendleton, a Steppenwolf veteran who gives a riveting performance as William Peters, the now-retired author of The Reaper’s Children, and steals every scene he’s in. When Peters unexpectedly turns up at the show’s rehearsals, it makes the cast and crew both delighted and uncomfortable; the fact that this meek, vaguely creepy man’s presence in the titular black box theater is never fully explained generates much of the film’s considerable mystery and power. 

You can rent or purchase Black Box on Devolver Digital’s official website.

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