Black Box blends memory and identity with sinister intent.
Black Box is an Amazon Prime Video Original science fiction horror drama and one of the first four Welcome to the Blumhouse films. Although it is marked as a horror science fiction thriller, it’s mostly the latter two mixed with family drama. It has a theme that is not new but is satisfyingly entertaining. With most of the focus on drama, the horror is very subtle, the science fiction the backdrop to which it all plays out in a thrilling way. It’s Black Mirror meets Get Out (2017) that has found its own voice, with a twist, but doesn’t raise it to a next level.
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Nolan Wright has been in a car accident. He has been in a coma for three days, while his wife Rachel didn’t make it. Now suffering from memory loss he tries to pick up his life again with his young daughter Ava, who takes care of him. But with strange recurring nightmares and feeling like he’s not the same person, he finally responses to the urgent calls of Dr. Lilian Brooke who says she can help him. She has invented a device Black Box that can recall memories by putting the person under hypnosis and bring them into their memories to trigger them. But when he undergoes this experimental research, something is terribly wrong.
Why you should watch it
While the story unfolds in a very generic way and the concept is not new, Black Box is engaging due to the adorable and grown-up Ava who steals every scene she’s in. The focus on Nolan’s relationship with Ava is the core and the heart of the movie and the story and she is “the knight in shining armor who wakes her father up with a kiss of true love.” In that way it is very much a science fiction fairytale with some roles that are turned upside down. The disturbed father-daughter role is the most evident example while there’s a more sinister turn of events at work.
While it starts out rather slowly, it doesn’t have to be tedious for this relationship is endearing and feels like a well-told drama. When Nolan agrees to participate in Brooke’s research the film shifts more towards a horror, especially with the creepy bend backwards man, who is played by the incredible contortionist Troy James. His part brings in the tangible horror, that plays out in Nolan’s mind.
His mind is his memories, so the film assumes that we are our memories, but the little twist takes it a step further towards a Black Mirror-like episode. While the creepy man is indeed a horror, the real horror for Nolan has yet to begin. That horror is a mind battle about identity and eventually about doing the right thing. Dr. Brooke is therefore after we know what’s going on, the real villain, or maybe even the mad scientist.
Another theme is the concept of love, often confused with selfishness. That is what lies beneath the real horror of what Nolan is going through. Although the twist isn’t too difficult to guess, how it plays out in the end is highly satisfying. It never dives deep into the psyche, although it dives deep in memories and the mind. The memories are too few, and are repeated and don’t show the full scope of the person whose mind we get to see. What also strikes as a bit odd and feels too focused and therefore too simplistic is that Nolan only has one friend, Gary who by chance also works at the hospital where Brooke works. We don’t see Nolan’s family or Ava’s friends, nor other aspects of his life. This too focused storytelling, also trims down the whole character of Nolan and the story as a whole. It’s plausible, but doesn’t make the story any richer or complicated or intriguing.
Black Box is an entertaining movie that brings some horror, great work by Troy James and familiar concepts that make up a watch that is enjoyable.
My favorite part
Ava was a great addition to the story. She was sweet, smart, adorable and did things that were way too grown-up for her do deal with, but she just was a kid that could handle it. Probably due to the great parenting by Rachel and Nolan and her own strong character. This brings hope and sweetness to the drama that on the other hand is not a pleasant family memory at all.
Thrill factor: ★★☆☆☆
Originality factor: ★★★☆☆
Entertainment factor: ★★★★☆
Cast and Crew
Black Box is directed and written by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour and cowritten by Wade Allain-Marcus and Stephen Herman. It stars Mamoudou Athie (Nolan Wright), Amanda Christine (Ava Wright), Phylicia Rashad (Dr Lilian Brooke), Tosin Morohunfola (Gary), Charmaine Bingwa (Miranda), Donald Elise Watkins (Thomas), Nyah Marie Johnson (Ashley) and Troy James (Backwards Man).
Duration: 100 minutes. Music: Brandon Roberts. Cinematography: Hilda Mercado. Edited by: Glenn Garland. Produced by: John H. Brister. Production companies: Amazon Studios. Blumhouse Productions, Black Bar Mitzvah. Distributed by: Amazon Prime Video.