First-semester social-science students would wince at the overreaching metaphors in Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly’s latest Rorschach test. The parallels between the tall tale’s namesake execution cube and Stanley Milgram’s shock apparatus are as subtle as a boner in sweatpants, and so are the cheap references to the Bible and O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi.”
When 1970s Virginia suburbanites Arthur (James Marsden) and Norma (Cameron Diaz) are told by the mysterious Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) that they can earn $1 million by activating the box they’ve received (which will then remotely cause a stranger’s death), their poor judgment sends them onto a morbid choose-your-own adventure thoroughfare. The Box, though masterfully illustrated, fails to think outside one.
There are several morals tucked into Kelly’s work — Murphy’s law; no free lunch; life is unfair — but none that most children haven’t learned by the time they finish pre-school.