As part of a collaboration with horror movie factory Blumhouse, a slew of mediocre horror flicks have made their way to Amazon Prime Video over the past two years. The eight-film (so far) anthology has given a ton of emerging filmmakers the chance to enter the horror arena.
Unfortunately, the majority of those movies haven’t surpassed the 50% mark on Metacritic. Most have an intriguing premise and most (read: seven out of eight) fell short of their potential.
But one raises the eyebrows in an “oh, that was surprisingly good” way.
Black Box is far and away the best of the Blumhouse-Prime Video bunch. A sci-fi flick with a horror bent, the 2020 release can rightly claim Black Mirror comparisons, taking conflicted people and handing them technology with consequences.
We literally dive into the head of Nolan Wright (Mamoudou Athie), a man who wakes up from a coma suffering from amnesia. This sounds like familiar territory, but it’s bolstered by Nolan’s daughter Ava, played by Amanda Christine, a child actor so good she would give the Stranger Things kids a run for their money.
Ten-year-old Ava is often the adult in the relationship, reminding her dad who he is, whipping up dinner for the night and generally holding her small family’s life together. You want her to have a good life and eventually Nolan realizes he needs to do something, anything, to become the dad his daughter deserves.
Fortunately, there’s a new, experimental therapy on offer, involving hypnosis and a generic VR headset called “black box.” (No spoilers: it’s all in the trailer.) Long doctor’s explanation short, it plunges Nolan into the recesses of his mind, where he searches for key memories. It has a whiff of the White Christmas Black Mirror episode, or just any entry involving technology playing tricks on the mind.
Yet Black Box’s indie movie delivery, with a focus on character self-discovery, gives it a slightly different definition.
Because we start off in low-key, character-focused mode, Black Box’s relatively low-budget sci-fi imagery leaves a stronger impression. The descent into Nolan’s memories is a slick moment — plunging us into a slightly brighter Sunken Place that plays with control over one’s body and subconscious. There’s also a body-contorting monster, along with a creaking strings score that dabs on a sense of foreboding and mystery.
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Even if you don’t read up on the premise of Black Box, it’s clear early on that something isn’t as it seems — not just with the memory exploring process, but with Nolan’s existence in general. “You shouldn’t have even survived this” — a doctor says helpfully of Nolan’s coma-inducing car accident.
It offers the enjoyable experience of picking up on clues, clumsy or otherwise. Some have described the memory puzzle aspect of Black Box as Memento-esque. While it isn’t as clever or intricate as Christopher Nolan’s classic, Black Box pieces out its game-changing reveals in a way that builds exciting momentum, rightly serving up the best moments for the end.
Black Box sneaks up on you with its well-oiled moving parts, coming together to deliver a simple but effective morsel of sci-fi horror. It gets the human aspect of its story right, wrapping every element into an emotionally rewarding conclusion. If you’re a sci-fi buff, particularly of the hidden gem variety, head on over to Amazon Prime Video. Black Box should be ticked off your list, especially as a marker of what’s to come from debut director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.