It’s always great to watch and review a film made in New Orleans, Louisiana. Luckily, with Black Box, we can do just that.
“Welcome to the Blum House” is a collection of eight current and upcoming films from Blum House on the Amazon Prime video service. In the time of COVID-19, when theaters are dying or, in some cases, already dead, we’re depending more and more on streaming services along with video on demand. But just because a movie isn’t playing in theaters doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be good, or even strive to be great. With several average-rated films already appearing on Amazon from Blum House, the question is whether or not Black Box meets that bar or surpasses it.
Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, Jr.’s directorial debut is the story of Nolan Wright (acted well by Mamoudou Athie) who has barely survived a car crash in which his wife is killed. His own survival is something of a miracle. Having been declared brain dead, he is semi-functional and suffers from amnesia.
Despite this, he does his best to be as good a father as one can be in such difficult circumstances. After all, he doesn’t have even a single memory of his deceased wife to remind him of what his family’s life was like. But his best simply isn’t enough. He needs some help remembering to properly dress himself. His daughter Ava (Amanda Christine) is just a little girl, but she does the cooking. Eventually, he leaves Ava at school rather than picking her up one time too many. Along with his other failings, this causes him to engage in an experimental treatment for amnesia with matronly mad Doctor Lillian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad—yes, you read that right, it’s Clair Huxtable of the Cosby Show). Dr. Brooks has a treatment for him known as the “Black Box.”
The Black Box is sort of a combination VR/hypnosis machine that allows someone to get in touch with their deepest subconscious memories, promising a cure for Nolan’s amnesia. Despite Dr. Brooks’ promises, the machine does far worse things than that, bringing him in touch with something (or someone) far more primal and evil than he believes himself to be. The Backwards Man (played extremely creepily by Troy James to fearful effect) is a creature who not only moves backwards, but can scurry around on all fours, and has a deep penchant for violence. Despite this being all virtual, Nolan can feel hands choking him, even after he comes out of his VR nightmare.
After the treatment, he seems to remember more of his life, a life of violence and abuse. Despite this, Nolan’s friend, Dr. Gary Yeboah played by Tosin Morohunfola, tells him that those memories do not align with his own, and the question becomes if those aren’t Nolan’s memories, whose are they? Is the Black Box lying to him, has he been lied to all along, or is something else happening?
Black Box has some interesting things going for it, and some not so much. The acting is sufficient. Certainly, no one does a bad job in the movie. There are no moments where anything felt ham-fisted or unbelievable. The lighting is lit. The camera work is fine. There’s simply nothing bad about it, but nothing that can be considered great.
It does strike an emotional chord and a strong one at that. Dealing with the issues of abuse and domestic violence, taking on the loss of loved ones, and the dynamics of two completely different worlds simultaneously, it does it well. There are moments that will make you smile, moments that will make you want to cry. And there are a few good scares in it that’ll make it feel like you’re not wasting your time if you’re looking for a thriller.
Admittedly, there are times where I wish things would have progressed a little faster. At 101 minutes, it really needs to earn every one of them. What it does with them, is good but not great. Will people be talking about this in the way they talk about Get Out or Total Recall years from now? It’s doubtful. But while not perfect, I suspect Osei-Kuffor Jr. has more films to make and I look forward to seeing where he takes us.
Black Box has some hits and some misses but overall manages to be a decent combination of mystery, horror, and sci-fi thriller with all the balancing that entails. It plays well as a mystery and provides enough twists to keep the viewer mostly engaged.