‘Black Box’ x King of Cups

Streaming now

The Blumhouse is taking over opening on Amazon Prime Video, with Black Box and Veena Sud’s The Lie, the first two of an eight-movie anthology o.k.a. Welcome to the Blumhouse, hitting the streaming service today for your entertainment this Halloween season. Another drop – featuring the Priyanka Chopra Jonas-produced Evil Eye and Nocturne – is due on Oct. 13.

A veritable, I ever saw one, Black Mirror-esque popcorn movie best summarized as Flatliners-meets-Hair Love-meets-Ghost ÷ The Manchurian Candidate + extra Oedipus-meets-Transcendence-meets-Get Out x Frankenstein, Black Box, nevertheless, effectively functions as its own sci-fi horror-thriller with its own able narrative. Co-written and directed by Texan Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr., in his feature-film debut, the movie stars Mamoudou Athie as photojournalist Nolan Wright, a young father trying to recover his memory, for the sake of Ava (Amanda Christine), his precocious kid daughter, following the car crash that claimed his wife, her mom, and left him in a three-day coma from which he kinda miraculously woke up.

Years later, Nolan’s condition only has gotten more confusing and frustrating; he’s unable to get new assignments and, worse yet, he’s starting to forget about Ava. A glimmer of hope shines upon Nolan, when his doctor-BFF and Ava’s Uncle Gary (Tosin Morohunfola), points him in the direction of Phylicia Rashad’s enigmatic Dr. Lillian Brooks, she of the groundbreakingly high-tech neuropsychiatry research at the ready that’s too good to be true…or, y’ know, gratis.

Some help, alright: You just know it isn’t gonna work out A-OK for him, when she asks to hypnotize him on the first consult, is all I’m sayin’. But desperate measures, and that’s why, even after he sees and feels something spooky while under, he presses on with the treatment the gizmo of the movie’s title facilitates, and about which, again, she can be hella cagey. See, Nolan might be looking to unlock his pre-accident memories and re-discover who he is to become a healthier father, but Dr. Brooks is seeking something far more sinister in the recesses of his mind, in that space between life and death in which consciousness can dance with darkness.

And now, an embarrassing tech confesh: I watched this one on my laptop. I know…not optimal, especially because Black Box is the real deal. I mean, it sort of works, even as a hodgepodge. It’s got the look, but it’s got entirely too many red herrings (hi, Uncle Gary) on the board, and points for confidence: The movie gets away with practically begging for a sequel.

Athie – fresh off a star-making turn as an aspiring sommelier torn between following his dream or following in his barbecue-joint-running father’s footsteps in Netflix’s Uncorcked – anchors the movie with the charm of a summer matinee idol in the making (keep in mind up next for him is Jurassic World: Dominion…). Athie tethers us to his and Ava’s story, even as Rashad’s Dr. Brooks works to pull a transdimensional heist that’ll cost someone their soul. Alas, the actress essentially has to rely on the mommie-dearest shtick (and double-down on it) that she recently put on display on TV’s Empire…and it’s just so obvious. By the time her motivation is revealed, I was referenced out, and it didn’t much matter because Rashad didn’t really get a Great Moment to transcend herself and become the Crazy Great Movie Villain this situation could have used. It wasn’t on the page, which is the most surprising thing about this one.

Black Box is reductive, at the end of the day (so many interesting ideas, so little time; it’s hard to pick one, when you’re world-setting, which is what I imagine Osei-Kuffour and Stephen Herman unconsciously were doing with their script, based on the latter’s story, btw), but it is made well – so do try to watch it on the biggest screen you can find; it definitely will add to the experience. They call ’em home theaters for a reason, so set the scene for yourself. I know I should have, but I am also convinced a more seasoned filmmaker might have been able to streamline the story just a little more to serve up some real cinema.

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