dir: Richard Kelly
This is not a good movie. It’s not even mediocre. It’s just incompetent.
It’s not as utterly godawful at his last awful foray into moviemaking, which was the truly dire Southland Tales, but whilst it’s not as asinine, it’s not much better. It’s staggeringly not much better.
Richard Kelly came to prominence with Donnie Darko, and since then has been squandering whatever goodwill the flick engendered with a much too forgiving audience. Honestly, these other films he’s been making are so eye-rottingly rotten that it makes me think Donnie Darko was a fluke, a goddamn fluke.
Maybe the elements that he was able to put together coherently the first time have never been able to coalesce since then. I know this is a review of his latest shitfest The Box, but bear with me for a second: I think you can see the seeds of his failure even back in Donnie Darko, by comparing the theatrical cut with his director’s cut.
That’s what it comes down to: Kelly doesn’t know how to edit his own flicks. Of course, the companies hire editors to actually edit the films, but the directors (and often producers) can end up sitting in at every stage to ensure their singular ‘vision’ gets carried through.
The director’s cut of Donnie Darko spends an inordinate amount of time explaining elements of the story that don’t matter, no-one other than Richard Kelly cares about, and that don’t make sense anyway. The most important part is that these sections don’t add anything, because they’re for arbitrary elements anyway.
Ignoring the poorly rendered story, the grainy and dulled visuals and the actors who clearly have no idea what they’re doing, it’s the editing which really takes the viewer out of the experience here.
A long time ago, there was a Twilight Zone episode called 'Button, Button', and it dealt with a mysterious guy knocking on a couple’s door, and presenting them with a dilemma: here’s a box with a button on it; if you press the button someone, somewhere whom you don’t know dies, and you get a million dollars. If you don’t press it, nothing happens and you get nothing.
The couple agonise over the decision, the pros and cons, the rationalisations and justifications, and finally make their decision. The clincher, twist or punch-line of the episode, coming as they always did on the Zone, right at the end, is the remark from the mysterious man that the box, with its button, will now go to someone else, someone that this couple doesn’t know.
The implication is clear, but I’m leaving it muddy, deliberately. It worked, concisely, and it delivered that queasy gut-punch that was the show’s trademark, leaving you with that sinking feeling accompanying realisation. This was a half-hour tv episode, which actually, with ad breaks, amounts to 22 or so minutes.
Richard Kelly, who obviously saw this episode at some point in his life, became obsessed with it, and thought “I shall turn that into a two-hour film, and include shit from my own life, and give an explanation of how the box works, and who the mysterious guy is. That’s the ticket!”
My point is, for Kelly to do what he’s done, means he completely missed the point of why the original episode worked. And (it’s more likely, since I’m sure he’s a highly intelligent guy, that he does grasp this obvious truth), in a remarkable time-wasting exercise, he decides to elaborate upon the parts of the story that are the least meaningful and least rewarding.