Midway through Richard Kelly's latest mind trip, half-faceless Arlington Steward declares, "I love a good mystery," and that pretty much sums up Kelly's career so far. It would be interesting to explain to someone who hasn't seen DONNIE DARKO (especially the director's cut) or SOUTHLAND TALES that he's really dialing back his indulgent, excessive weirdness in THE BOX. That might be because he's starting with someone else's story (Richard Matheson's "Button, Button").
Arlington Steward delivers a box to Norma Lewis (Cameron Diaz, with an annoying accent that I guess is supposed to be Virginian?), and tells her that if she presses the button inside the box then 1) a person somewhere who she doesn't know will die, and b) she will receive $1,000,000 cash. She can't discuss this with anyone except her NASA engineer husband Arthur (James Marsden). That little moral challenge leads to a dizzying plot of aliens, water portals, the NSA, mindless slaves (or "employees" as Steward calls them), and the classic Arthur C. Clarke line about sufficiently advanced science being indistinguishable from magic. And this simple moral challenge might just be part of a greater test for all mankind.
I'm going to repeat what I said after I saw SOUTHLAND TALES. Richard Kelly is an exciting, talented filmmaker who pursues an unlimited vision even when it means leaving the entire audience behind. In that sense, he could be on his way to a career like Lynch or Cronenberg--one where his movies can really only be understood as part of his whole evolving vision. In order to do that he needs to be a little more prolific. It frustrated me that I had to wait 6 years for a follow-up to DONNIE DARKO, and I got an indulgent mess like SOUTHLAND TALES (although I still maintain that once his entire vision is explicated, SOUTHLAND TALES might be revisited as the gestation of every idea in his head). I'm happy I only had to wait 2 years for THE BOX, and if he can keep making movies, perhaps he'll finish his vision in his own lifetime.