Released: 6th October
Seen: 17th October
In recent years, Blumhouse has become the place to go for a shot of good, fun horror. They’re responsible for intelligent gems like Get Out and Happy Death Day, monster hits like The Purge series and revivals like Halloween all came from this one little studio that is known for giving a lot of freedom to directors who are willing to work with a micro budget. Well, in 2020 they would’ve released a new Halloween and Purge movie by this point in the year but, you know, we live in an apocalypse so we can’t have nice things but what we can have is a quadrilogy of horror films that’s been grouped into a series titled “Welcome to the Blumhouse”. Now I’m aware that there’s apparently 8 films in this series but I only have 4 of them out now to review and I don’t know when the other 4 are meant to come out so I’m going with quadrilogy. Now let’s talk about Black Box.
Black Box follows Nolan Wright (Mamoudou Athie) who is still recovering from a recent car accident that caused his wife’s death. Beyond the physical and emotional pain, Nolan is also suffering from a serious memory loss issue which is driving a wedge between him and his daughter Ava (Amanda Christine). In a desperate attempt to try and do something to regain his memory, Nolan signs up for an experimental program under Dr Lilian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad) which will apparently let him rebuild the memories that he lost… at least, that’s what Dr Brooks told him would happen. However, Nolan’s memories seem to be incomplete, missing faces and in unfamiliar locations. The memories he sees don’t feel familiar, like they’re from someone else entirely.
If I were to compare this to anything, I’d say it was a Black Mirror version of Get Out only not quite as awesome as that combination would imply. It’s not as scary as one might hope, it’s unnerving certainly but there aren’t as many jaw dropping horror moments as it could have. Indeed, any actual scares come mostly thanks to contortionist Troy James and the entire sound department who work together to create the creature credited as ‘Backwards Man” which combines Troy’s contortionism with the sounds of breaking bones to create the image of a creature that looks just like our protagonist who walks backwards with his bones constantly breaking.
The story itself is very simple, with little elements of Nolan’s ‘memory’ coming back and him investigating to try and figure out just why he can’t remember anything… until the film pulls the ripcord and goes full Get Out, complete with our hero seemingly floating in a dark room in his mind. Exchange the brilliant commentary on race relations for a story about the lengths a mother will go to in order to resurrect her son, you’ve got this movie.
What elevates the material is the performances, mostly that of Phylicia Rashad who doesn’t get as many scenes as an icon like her deserves to have but she uses them to create one of the most quietly villainous performances of the year. Everyone is really pushing to try and match what she’s doing, including the kid who honestly does better than most child actors in this kind of movie. This is a cast that’s working hard to make this material work as much as possible… but they’re hampered by it being an obvious knockoff of two iconically brilliant properties and this film just can’t rise to that level.
For what it’s worth, Black Box is a fine film with some great performances but a story that feels so familiar to what’s gone before that it’s hard to avoid the comparison. Judging on its own merits, the film just barely hits good and stays there for the entire runtime. It banks on the performances and one genuinely creepy concept but can’t quite stick the landing. Consider it an entry point into the genre, if you were curious about things like Black Mirror or Get Out but heard how smart and challenging they were and wanted to work up to that kind of film, here’s the stepping stone to test the waters before going for the gold.