One of the more interesting flicks of the fall season is Richard Kelly’s new thriller “The Box.”
The “Donnie Darko” director has had an interesting roller coaster of a career since that dramatic thriller became a cult sensation in 2001, but “The Box” could turn his fortunes around.
If you’ve seen the film’s trailer, you know that stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden play a married couple with kids who are struggling to get by in the 1970s. Their lives are thrown into a whirlwind when mysterious man named Arlington Stewart (Frank Langella) offering them $1 million dollars if they open up a box and push a red button. The catch? Pushing the button will kill someone in the world — someone they don’t know, but a death they would be responsible for.
Appearing at Comic-Con Friday in front of a packed Hall H of 6,500 fans, Kelly, Diaz and Marsden introduced an extended set of clips and footage from the thriller.
One scene found Norma (Diaz) allowing Stewart, whose eloquence is augmented by his strange disfigured face, into her home. He calmly offers her the tantalizing monetary offer — to Norma’s shock — and gives her a new $100 bill just for listening. Another segment found Norma and Arthur (Marsden) debating whether to take Stewart up on his offer. They try to justify whether the death of someone they don’t know is worth the financial freedom they’ve been promised. That’s when, to the shock of Arthur, Norma spontaneously hits the button. At this point, the preview became a montage of strange imagery featuring crazy laughing waiters, Arthur hovering in a wall of water over Diaz, and futuristic technology that has been hinted at in the trailer. Very intriguing stuff for sure.
Kelly revealed he based “The Box” on a six-page short story he always remembered growing up. He recalls, “I had this tantalizing concept I always wanted to expand into a feature film. After many years how to crack the story, the key was setting it into 1976 and tying it into some specific things that happened at NASA in the 70s.”
The filmmaker also noted setting the film 30 years ago was key because strangers hardly exist in the modern world. Kelly notes, “I didn’t want to write that scene where Arthur and Norma google Arlington Stewart.”
Not only was this Diaz’s first visit to Comic-Con, “The Box” seemingly represents her first true genre picture. She revealed that her late father was a big fan of Sci-Fi and it was always part of her life.
“What I really love about Sci-Fi it seems to be come from the creative intellectual who is trying to answer all these existentialquestion we have,” Diaz says. “There is so much about humanity in this script and so much we are trying to understand about ourselves. Who are we as a [people].”
Consequently, what she also loved about the project was Kelly’s style that is purposely reminiscent of two great filmmakers. Diaz notes, “The pacing of the film is very Kubrick. There is a Hitchcock feel of suspense. It has a long, drawn out feel of suspense of it.”
That’s not necessarily the sort of description Warner Bros. marketing department was hoping to sell the film to the 6,500 attendees on hand, but what must have been much more disconcerting was when the actress answered a question about her character by giving away one of the central secrets of the picture.
[Major Spoiler Alert]
“Richard helped us by making it not just people from Mars as well,” Diaz says inadvertently revealing Langella’s character is an alien. “There had to be someone testing mankind as well. As Jimmy was saying, ‘Keep it simple,’ but the example of ‘Are we alone? Are we the only ones out there? Is it just us or is there someone else to push the button as well?””
This major plot point (which alludes that Langella and his crew are Martians testing humanity) made a number of journalists in this writer’s section turn their heads, but Kelly did a great job of not overreacting to Diaz spoiling the beans. And nor did it appear Diaz realized she’d let something out of the bag she wasn’t supposed to. And as for Warner Bros., they may have been more than preoccupied with Gary Oldman dropping a “Batman” bombshell on the previous panel. In any event, “The Box” is a huge step for Kelly whose last picture, “Southland Tales,” was a critical and financial failure of epic proportions.
“I’m just grateful to be still working. Cameron signing on to this film changed my life,” Kelly admits. “To make a big studio film is an honor and hopefully to have a movie that grosses more than $1 million at the U.S. box office. I would love if that happened. And continue to do things on a bigger scale. This still is the most personal film I’ve ever made. It’s definitely within my sensibility and the studio system so I hope to continue to be able to do that.”
“The Box” opens nationwide on Oct. 30.