Movie Review: Black Box
Black Box is about Nolan, a man who is recovering from a traumatic brain injury. A car accident cost him his wife and his memories of her, but as he tries to piece his memories back together he gets persistent messages from a neuroscientist who claims she can do what no one else can. Her radical therapy has some very unexpected results. The film stars Mamoudou Athie, Phylcia Rashad, Amanda Christine, Tosin Morohunfola, Charmain Bingwa, and Donal Elise Watkins. It is directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, Jr. and written by Osei-Kuffour Jr., Stephen Herman, and Wade Allain-Marcus. The film is streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime as a part of their Welcome to the Blumhouse series.
Black Box strikes every right note. The film is heartfelt and dramatic while also having great jump scares and disturbing elements when it comes to the inner workings of the mind. I love this kind of humanistic science-fiction/horror filmmaking. It fleshes out the terror and makes it more grounded while also building in very good plot turns and revelations.
Some of my favorite things about this film are the things that definitely frightened me the most. The first time Nolan is put under hypnosis, he's mostly just a floating head and neck in a sea of black. The effect is quite ingenious in that it's just a light that shines on the actor with no other light source able to penetrate any of the blackness that surrounds him. It's terrifying to be alone in a void, but even more terrifying is what's lurking in Nolan's memories. Proceeded by a loud, shiver inducing bone cracking sound, a creature emerges to fight off Nolan's intrusion. The creature is human, but completely twisted up, crawling like a crab toward us. I may have nightmares about that creature.
What I had very warm thoughts about is the relationship between Nolan and his daughter Ava. Ava's a nurturing person, she's very young, but incredibly wise. She does everything she can to be the solid support system for her troubled father. This plot could have been a movie of its own, but really grounds Black Box in delightful and heartbreaking ways. Often the horror/science-fiction films that actually have this kind of relationship are the ones that stay with me the best.
This relationship also makes the plot turn that much more poignant and the resolution so powerful. It would be reductive to call our realization of what's really happening to Nolan a twist. It isn't what a twist normally is where it's all revealed at the end, this is a tectonic shift in the makeup of the story. The plot is brilliantly scripted and hinted at by the writing team of Wade Allain-Marcus, Stephen Herman, and Emmanuel Osei-Koffour Jr. They make you think you know what's going on and think you know what's going to happen next, but all expectations get upended in some of the best ways and open up new questions as well.
What's in no question is the brilliance of this cast. Every actor is on a whole new level of performance, but none more so than the great Phylicia Rashad. Rashad plays the "mad scientist" with an excellent degree of blindingly intelligent and doggedly pursuant. There's a scene I can't describe in too much detail as it would give the plot away, but a character begins to get aggressive with her and with a look and step forward, she commands the situation. Rashad is a brilliant actor with incredible instincts that are on full display here.
Black Box is a great balance of pathos, psychological horror, and what if science-fiction. I really loved the human relationships at play and the questions it asks about who we are as people and what it would be like to find out something about ourselves that we had a chance to change. Seek this one out for the thrills and chills, but also for the warm embrace of loving relationships.