Directed By: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour
Written By: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, Stephen Herman
Streaming on Prime Video: October 6, 2020
Runtime: 100 minutes
Studio: Amazon Studios, Blumhouse Productions, Black Bar Mitzvah
Starring: Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine
Black Box is about a man, Nolan Wright (Athie), who lost a majority of his memory from a previous car accident and has to rediscover his identity and the life he once lived. When Nolan meets Dr. Lilian Brooks (Rashad), she helps him discover the past through an experimental treatment, which involves a “black box” where he can go back to his memories and analyze them. Nolan tries to put the pieces together and save the relationship with his daughter (Christine) in the process. However, the memories hold a surprise that may have been better to be kept in his subconscious.
For starters, Black Box has an impressive concept. The synopsis alone should be enough to pique curiosity for those wanting to watch an intriguing sci-fi and follow along the path of a man searching for his truth. I was very much with the film when it first started. We have an amnesiac patient who is put in an experiment, only to encounter creepy faceless memories with a contortionist chasing him around every corner in his subconscious. Hell to the yeah! Give me more of that! The film quickly deteriorates any interest by the midway point by hitting the same “scare” tactics over the head and muddling any essential information with cringe-worthy exposition. By the third act, it’s as lifeless as a brain-dead patient and a chore to have any desire to finish the off-paced film.
What this film tries to accomplish is being a sci-fi horror. Where it fails is when it tries to balance the two genres, and in turn, makes for the fun concept to turn sour. It doesn’t know what it wants to be. On one hand, you have this film that wants to be horrifying and explore the subconscious of a man haunted by memories he doesn’t recall. While on another hand, you have this film the tries to explore the science behind the memories with a doctor who feels unnatural in a setting where she should come off as being natural at the very least. As it tries to balance the two, it causes the tone to go too far one way, or too far another way. There is no happy-medium where both can exist on a scale within the film.
Either it’s the acting, or it’s the direction in this film that comes off as forced. The writing is not very strong, and instead of honing in on what makes the concept work, the film tries to be as vague as possible, forcing the actors to go through endless exposition and clunky sincerity. For as much as it is a film that wants to explore the horrors of the subconscious, it’s more of a film that wants to tell us word for word about the horrors rather than letting the audience experience it firsthand. Like I stated earlier, the introduction to the memories with a lurking creature had a strong start. That’s all the filmmakers could offer. They showed us the best and then saved the absurd for last with little to no precedence.
Through its entire runtime, Black Box attempts to build toward a third act reveal that should, hypothetically, leave our jaws on the floor in awe. The attempted shock-factor feels like another concept that was not fully explored on paper. Not only does the big payoff not feel like a payoff, but it feels lazy and rushed. The pacing of the film struggles in its third act because it stays for too long with characters that are thrown in the last minute. Unfortunately, it’s by the end when the film shows just how weak and diminutive of a backbone it had in its concept.
If you can get past the inconsistent tonal shifts, unnatural expository deliveries, and be okay with hanging on by a vague idea, then maybe you can find something more interesting about Black Box than I was able to. It had potential, just not enough to impress.
I give Black Box 2/5 stars.