Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Black Box (Movie Review)

Blumhouse recently inked an 8-film deal with Amazon Studios, all of which would be released under the Welcome to the Blumhouse banner on the latter's video rental service, Prime Video. Black Box is the first one of those films, a science-fiction horror film helmed by first-time director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr. Much like most of their other movies, the film is a low-budget take on a high-concept idea, albeit one that discerning viewers might have ran across one time too many.

In the film, a man named Nolan (Mamoudou Athie) is suffering from amnesia, following a car accident that claimed the life of his wife 6-months prior to the start of the movie. He now struggles to remember basic details about his day-to-day life, like the directions to his daughter's school, or when to pick her up afterwards. He is also being haunted by fragments of his old memories, which include strange visions and nightmares.

In a bid to get back his memories, he starts receiving treatment from a neurosurgeon (Phylicia Rashad) that claims to be able to help even patients that have been declared brain dead. Her technique involves using the titular Black Box, a device that looks like a souped up VR headset, capable of putting patients under some mild hypnosis as she guides them on their journey to recovery. Except Nolan's progress is held back by manifestations of a distorted figure with breaking bones. Now he must struggle to overcome it, even as he continues to feel like a stranger in his own body.

Black Box feels right at home with Blumhouse's current pedigree of past work. You can definitely see the through lines between it and Upgrade. Both movies feature a man whose life is derailed after a devastating car accident that left his partner dead, as well as an attempt to use technology to improve the quality of that man's life. But to say that the film is on the same level with that other movie would be somewhat disingenuous. 

It is not that the movie is less than the sum of its parts, but more to do with its overall execution. The film starts off strong, but once it arrives at the now requisite plot twist about half way into its runtime, things start to feel overly familiar. Maybe it is the fact that the idea behind the twist is a concept that has been explored several times before, including in a story by yours truly.

Whatever the case, it is at that point that the film becomes less concerned with unraveling any remaining mysteries, and more concerned with arriving at its unremarkable finale. Still, a film should be judged by the quality of its overall journey and not just its final destination. Also, it did boast a number of strong performances from its all-black cast, which includes Tosin Morohunfola, an actor of Nigerian descent.

It is those little details that ultimately make it easy for me to recommend Black Box to fans of Blumhouse and high concept science-fiction stories alike.

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