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dir-scr Richard Kelly
prd Richard Kelly, Dan Lin, Kelly McKittrick, Sean McKittrick
with Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, James Rebhorn, Holmes Osborne, Sam Oz Stone, Gillian Jacobs, Celia Weston, Deborah Rush, Lisa K Wyatt, Mark Cartier, Kevin Robertson
release US 6.Nov.09, UK 4.Dec.09
Facing temptation: Marsden and Diaz
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Based on a Richard Matheson story, this film is another flight of fancy for Donnie Darko director Kelly. While it's fascinating and twisty, with a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, it's also pretentious and overwrought.
In 1976 Virginia, Norma and Arthur (Diaz and Marsden) are quietly struggling to keep their lives on an even keel while their teen son Walter (Stone) notices something's up. Then a facially deformed stranger (Langella) appears with a box topped by a button and a tantalising offer: push the button and earn $1 million, the hitch being that someone you don't know will die as a result. But Norma and Arthur are sucked down into the stranger's rabbit hole when their initial moral dilemma becomes something much more sinister and confusing.
The simplicity of Matheson's morality play is stretched into a full-on sci-fi melodrama, enveloping agents from various government bodies, Norma's extended family and a group of dead-eyed mumblers who seem to either be brainwashed cult members or victims of alien-possession. Kelly ratchets up the ominous mood into something that feels epic even though it never resolves meaningfully. And he does this so earnestly that it feel silly, especially with so many dead-end story strands.
By only barely touching on the story's morality play plot, the film feels like it's merely an exercise in creating a sinister tone. And by taking himself so seriously, without having the originality to back it up, Kelly leaves us rolling our eyes as we wait for something interesting to happen. This isn't to say that some audiences won't be willing to go along with his dark and brooding story, but it's not nearly as deep or clever as it seems to be.
And there's also a problem with the casting. While it's always great to see Diaz and Marsden in serious roles, both are oddly constrained by character traits that seem pointlessly assigned. And this arbitrary writing also weakens the premise, which never feels honest (this supposedly financially strained family lives far too well). As a result, the emotional finale is somewhat forced. And while Kelly is certainly a filmmaker with skill, he needs to step back and let some fresh air into his movies.
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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