What are we without our personal experiences or our memories? Without actually knowing who we are, without really knowing our own character, how can we differentiate one person from another? When those very specific aspects are removed, what do we have that’s left? Welcome to the Blumhouse!
Black Box is one of four offerings for the anthology series released in 2020 (the others being Evil Eye, Nocturne and The Lie), all of which are distributed through Amazon Prime Video. Brought to life by my favorite house of horrors, each one offers small-screen stories sprinkled in with a few scares.
Living life through a series of Post It notes and ongoing nightmares is obviously taking its toll on Nolan. His young daughter is forced into the role of a parent, as he has become more childlike with his memory loss, needing plenty of guidance. With no income to support his family, he attempts to improve his quality of life through an experimental medical procedure. The Black Box is a sort of portal where memories are converted into a virtual experience. It’s like reliving life via virtual reality. Dr. Lilian Brooks hopes to reverse his current condition through the therapy treatment.
The overall story is told through the interactions of Nolan, who has a complicated past, to say the least. Piece by piece he attempts to overcome severe brain damage in order to figure it all out. Attempting to overcome an ongoing psychological trauma, actor Mamoudou Athie does a terrific job in showcasing a range of emotions, with agonizing pain and confusion being his strongest suit. He’s very believable as a man trapped inside another man (kinda like Tropic Thunder, but not really). Phylicia Rashad does a terrific job as a complex mad scientist, immediately wiping away any lingering images of Mrs. Huxtible. And Tosin Morohunfola is terrific in a strong supporting role here.
“You hit one wall and all of a sudden you think you’re Bobby Brown?”
Amnesia stories can be tricky business, demanding intricate attention to the story’s layout, with every single detail being very important. Black Box does a decent job in balancing believability with futuristic technology. I’ve always been interested in near-death experiences (NDEs); my ears immediately perk up whenever the topic is discussed on Coast to Coast AM, among other shows. And as someone who has previously participated in sleep studies, I was especially intrigued by the film’s premise. The futuristic technology seems to cover both topics.
Black Box is dramatic, but it’s not quite a thriller. There’s creepy scenes, but it’s not really scary. Black Box has horror elements, but the overall genre is more science fiction than anything else.
All of that being said, I was not a fan — at all — of its conclusion. Things wrapped up a tad too cleanly by the conclusion of Act III. Long a fan of stories that involve science experiments gone terribly wrong, Black Box has a very cool concept… but you never mess with Mother Nature without paying some sort of heavy price (usually involving the death of a main character), which never materializes here. You shouldn’t be able to live happily ever after, once you cheat death. It’s just not right.
That’s a major complaint of the writers, but this is a pretty great story, brought to life by an almost all-black cast. There needs to be more such films appearing on the big screen, on the small screen or on any screen, really. And especially within the horror genre!
The next round of films for the Welcome to the Blumhouse umbrella franchise won’t appear until 2021, so you’ve got plenty of time to watch the first four installments. Check them out during the spooky season, as they’re more fun to watch right now, through the end of October!