“Black Box” is the first of four movies that Blumhouse is releasing on Amazon Prime during the month of October. Blumhouse has a reputation for financing and distributing lower budget horror films that often expose fresh new talent to wider audiences. Unfortunately, although interesting, “Black Box” falls a little flat.
The premise is familiar yet intriguing. Nolan (Mamoudou Athie) is recovering from a terrible car accident that took the life of his wife and left him with significant memory loss. His pre-teen daughter Ava (Amanda Christine) is incredibly supportive and does her best to help him remember people, places, and routines. When a look of confusion crosses his face Ava kindly reminds him, “Just keep smiling and nod.” Nolan has made a lot of progress, but some things just don’t feel right. At one point he lost his temper and punched a wall. On another occasion, his daughter scolds him for having a pack of cigarettes and throws them out the window, declaring, “You don’t smoke!!” Questions arise as to his true nature. Is he a nice guy who is just frustrated? Or has he just forgotten that he has a terrible temper? Is his daughter helping him to remember or tricking him into quitting a bad habit? On top of this, Nolan worries child protective services may deem him as an unfit parent.
After confiding in his Neurologist friend, Gary (Tosin Morohunfola), Nolan decides to meet with Lillian (Phylicia Rashad), a scientist who is running an experimental study. With the use of hypnosis and virtual reality, Lillian attempts to pull memories directly from the subconscious mind. But this is not exactly a pleasant treatment. Nolan’s damaged brain is filled with faceless people, places he shouldn’t have any connection to, and a deformed assailant that stalks him.
The first half of the movie is engaging and presents a number of interesting possibilities. But at almost exactly the film’s midpoint, everything is explained and although it leaves our protagonist in a quandary, the second half is disappointingly by-the-book. The rest of the movie drags by comparison, as we wait for the events to play out as we expect them to. It’s still an interesting movie overall, but because it peaks so early, there’s hardly anything left for the climax. There’s also a missed opportunity for a more surreal and terrifying VR world. Besides the blurred faces and “broken man” it’s pretty tame for an R-rated Bloomhouse flick. It’s a shame they didn’t lean more into a “Jacob’s Ladder” vibe.
Black Box (2020)