Black Box is a lazy, boring, and self-serious entry in the Welcome to the Blumhouse project.
The second feature in Amazon’s Welcome to the Blumhouse film series, Black Box is ostensibly more of a horror film than the just-released The Lie. That said, a dude crab-walking across the screen while amplified bone-cracking sound effects shake your home speakers does not a scary film make. In fact, director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour seems far more interested in third-rate domestic drama theatrics than anything resembling terror, although effort is legitimately made to marry the two — it’s just too bad he and his stable of screenwriters fail miserably. It doesn’t help that the story — a loving father and husband (Mamoudou Athie) suffers from memory loss due to a car accident that left his wife dead — is so uninspired. Cue some experimental therapy courtesy of a suspicious-but-brilliant neuro-therapist (Phylicia Rashad) who will cull memories from his subconscious and force him to relive — and possibly alter — the events through a form of virtual reality. Naturally, something sinister exists in the recesses of his mind, resulting in a series of plot twists that the viewer can see coming from a mile away.
The whole enterprise feels like an especially lackluster episode of Black Mirror stretched to a breaking point, one of those lame ones where the moral of the story is “Man is the real monster,” and we all collectively sigh into our Hot Pockets. The self-seriousness with which the story is told is particularly egregious, and indeed proves to be Black Box’s biggest problem; there is not an ounce of fun to be squeezed from the proceedings, which is quite an accomplishment when you remember the science at the heart of the story involves virtual reality and all of the cinematic possibilities it presents. Considering that domestic violence plays a crucial role in the proceedings, approaching the material with a solemn tone is perhaps understandable, but an equally fair charge is that using such an unsavory plot device for your lazy thriller — and not commenting on it in any sort of meaningful way — is cheap and crass. Nobody let Athie and Rashad, who deliver performances of such emotional conviction that it makes the viewer lament the wasted energy, in on the determined artistic and narrative indolence, although the effort is appreciated; at least someone on set was trying. You certainly don’t see it in the filmmaking, which is perfunctory at best. But ultimately, Black Box’s greatest sin, one doubly problematic given the project’s marketing and its October release, is that it’s simply boring as hell. Instead, it delivers only 100 glacially-paced minutes that feature not a single shock or surprise. That’s the real horror here.
You can currently stream Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour’s Black Box on Amazon Prime.