Blumhouse's Black Box Has Seriously Creepy Atmosphere

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Black Box Blumhouse

Let's begin with an existential exercise: Who are you? Or put another way, How do you know who you really are? The most obvious answer is that you are, in a way, your memories--that you know who you are because you remember you are. Take away or alter those recollections and you cease to be who you once were. We become the epitome of Heinlein's Michael Valentine, a stranger in a strange land.

The core of the Blumhouse release Black Box is rife with such philosophical pickings, an intricate, million-piece psychological puzzle that immerses the viewer in the travails of professional photographer Nolan Wright's struggle to find his identity after surviving a car accident that killed his wife Rachel and left him with brain damage-induced amnesia. His is a lost world, where his grade-school age daughter Eva must take the reins with cooking and keeping her father on a daily routine with sticky-note reminders to do everyday activities.

Convincingly portrayed by Mamoudou Athie, Nolan's hazy attempts to grope his way back to a pre-accident life are thwarted until he comes to the attention of Dr. Brooks ( Phylicia Rashad), who has invented a neurological device she calls the Black Box, which allows a patient to immerse themselves in a fully-realized visualization of their own subconscious in order to break down the amnesiac barriers. The procedure works, though what Nolan re-lives during the process does not mesh with the information he's learned about his life, and he begins to question what kind of person he was before the accident. Was he a wife abuser, a cheater, a murderer? Why does he keep seeing everyone in his memories with blurred faces? And what is the creepy, bone-bending contortionist creature crawling his way during every excursion into his subconscious? Dr. Brooks assures Nolan it's his own brain attempting to block access to his old memories, but is it?  

There's similar cinematic ground between Black Box and Christopher Nolan's 2001 sideways-noir masterpiece Memento (Did scriptwriters Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr. and Stephen Herman name their protagonist in homage to the famed Dark Knight director?), as well as Alex Proya's criminally underrated 1998 memory-swapping gothic sci-fi flick Dark City and even such movies as The Matrix and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Yet Black Box differs in its nuanced depiction of an average man's plight through the mental wilderness and its unabashed suspense-horror trappings. It's a model of tenseness, with solid, even-handed direction by Osei-Kuffour Jr., who tautly maintains audience interest in a situation that could've easily devolved into sentimental mediocrity on par with a Ghost Whisperer rerun. There was a real threat halfway through the film that the repeated re-immersions of Nolan into the morass of his own memories could slump with stale repetition but, as is usual with Blumhouse releases, the plot takes a wild, almost jarring turn that reveals Dr. Brooks' true motivations and nails home the central theme of memory-as-identity. The acting, particularly of leads Athie and Rashad, grounds the film, with Athie's Nolan a portrait of a man adrift and Rashad's of a woman both manipulative and maternal as she leads him to a place she's determined for him to be.

All in all, it's a solid effort worth a watch (maybe two, to catch all the pieces missed the first time around). If you're looking for blood and mayhem, this won't quench the lustmörd, but if you're in the mood for serious, creepy, atmospheric tension (the sinister contortionist creature will get your skin crawling), you're in for a treat. A 4 out of 5 on my Fang Scale.

Grade: 
4.0 / 5.0