As part of a collaboration with horror movie factory Blumhouse, a slew of mediocre horror films have made their way to Amazon Prime Video over the past two years. The eight-film anthology (so far) has given a ton of up-and-coming filmmakers the chance to step into the horror arena.
Unfortunately, the majority of these films did not pass the 50% mark on Metacritic. Most have an intriguing premise and most (read: seven out of eight) fell short of their potential. But we raise our eyebrows in an “oh, that was surprisingly good” way.
Black Box is by far the best of the Blumhouse-Prime Video bunch. A sci-fi film with a horror bent, the 2020 release can rightly claimcomparisons, taking people in conflict and handing them technology with consequences.
We literally plunge into the head of Nolan Wright (Mamoudou Athie), a man who wakes up from a coma suffering from amnesia. It sounds like familiar territory, but it’s bolstered by Nolan’s daughter Ava, played by Amanda Christine, a child actress so good she’d give a Stranger Things kid a hard time.
Ten-year-old Ava is often the adult in the relationship, reminding her father who he is, cooking dinner for the night, and generally holding her little family’s life together. You want her to have a good life and eventually Nolan realizes he has to do something, anything, to become the father his daughter deserves.
Fortunately, a new experimental therapy is on offer, involving hypnosis and a generic VR headset called a “black box”. (Spoiler-free: it’s all in the trailer.) The Doctor’s long explanation is short, she thrusts Nolan into the recesses of his mind, where he searches for key memories. It has a whiff of the episode White Christmas Black Mirror, or any entry involving technology playing tricks in mind.
Yet Black Box’s indie delivery of characters’ self-discovery gives it a slightly different definition.
Because we’re starting in low-key, character-driven mode, Black Box’s relatively low-budget sci-fi imagery leaves a stronger impression. The descent into Nolan’s memories is a tricky moment – plunging us into a slightly brighter Sunken Place that plays with the control of his body and his subconscious. There’s also a writhing monster, as well as a creaking string score that accentuates a sense of foreboding and mystery.
Even if you don’t read about the premise of Black Box, it’s clear from the start that something isn’t what it seems – not just with the memory mining process, but with the existence of Nolan in general. “You shouldn’t even have survived that” – a doctor helpfully says of Nolan’s coma-inducing car accident.
It offers the enjoyable experience of picking up clues, clumsy or not. Some have described the memory puzzle aspect of Black Box as Memento-esque. While not as clever or complex as Christopher Nolan’s classic, Black Box presents its groundbreaking reveals in a way that builds exciting momentum, rightly serving up the best moments till the end.
Black Box sneaks up on you with its well-oiled moving parts, coming together to deliver a simple yet effective piece of sci-fi horror. He gets the human aspect of his story, wrapping each element into an emotionally rewarding conclusion. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, especially the hidden gem variety, head over to Prime Video. Black Box should be checked off your list, especially as a marker of what’s to come from debut director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.
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