In December 1997, in Nashville, TN (just down the road a ways from me), Opryland USA permanently closed. It was an amusement park which mainly operated in the warmer months, although it did host Christmas shows. The next spring and summer, vehicles full of families began arriving, completely ignorant of the fact the park had closed. Some of them had driven hundreds, even thousands, of miles from afar to visit the “Home of American Music” and ride its roller coasters, bumper cars, and walk the midway. Suffice it to say, these people who visited our fine state were not very happy. It was a case of life imitating art à la National Lampoon’s Vacation.
You know what they say, it’s the journey and not the destination. I relate these things because I want you to keep them in mind when you watch The Box. It is very likely you will hate the ending. You may even want to strangle the final scenes of this movie if it were possible to do so. But, and I can’t stress this enough, the build up to the ending, how we get there, is the real charm of this film.
Based upon Richard Matheson’s 1970 short story, “Button, Button”, The Box is set during the chilly December of 1976. Here we meet Arthur and Norma Lewis. Arthur works at NASA and Norma is a teacher at the same private school their son attends. They are the idyllic American middle class family right down to the money woes. This is disrupted when they find a package on their doorstep: a box with a button on top.
Soon, Norma is visited by a disfigured stranger who calls himself Mr. Steward. He sent them the box and he presents Norma with a crazy, macabre offer for her and Arthur to think over. The deal is if they push the button on the box, they will be gifted a million dollars in cold, hard cash (that’s over $4.5 mil in 2020 money). The catch, and there’s always a catch, is that someone they do not know will die. Mr. Steward leaves the box, and a one hundred dollar bill for Norma as thanks for her hospitality.
Arthur and Norma discuss the stranger, the box, and the plausibility of the whole thing. It’s totally insane, but….The hundred dollar bill is authentic, and they contemplate the consequences of pushing the button if the entire deal is for real. Rationalizing that it is, simply, a box, Norma pushes the big, red button.
Steward arrives and holds good on his end of the bargain– he gives them their money. Along with it is his guarantee that someone did die because the button was pressed.
Post-button press is where The Box begins its twists and turns. Some really strange hockey-doo shit begins to happen. Some of it is science, maybe supernatural as in beyond the natural order of things. Some of it is the we’re all connected in a butterfly-flaps-its-wings-in-China-and-makes-it-rain-in-New York sort of way.
Whatever the events, or off-the-wall, piecemeal logic, it’s a fun watch. Just, maybe, ignore the ending. The suspense trumps the payoff.