“You just need to remember who you are again.” That is what Dr. Lillian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad) tells her latest patient, Nolan (Mamoudou Athie). Nolan is the survivor of an accident that saw him lose his wife and has left him alone in trying to put the pieces back together. While he’s lucky to be alive, his memories are all but evaporated after waking up from a three day coma. Once a photographer at the near peak of his craft, Nolan is missing that something he once possessed. An inability to secure work has threatened the livelihood of not only himself, but his daughter, Ava (Amanda Christine).
The totality of all this has pushed him to take up Dr. Brooks’ offer of repairing who he really is. It is a last resort, if only because the brilliance of Dr. Brooks is offset by her…questionable methods. In his quick time with her though, things start to come together. Yet, there is something off about the fragments he remembers. The mind is a terrible thing to waste, no matter where it comes from.
Black Box—a Blumhouse release (and a fourth of the October slated “Welcome to the Blumhouse” quartet appearing on Amazon Prime) —takes inspiration from two fellow Blumhouse produced movies mentioned on its poster in Get Out (any hypnosis scene will always rightfully be compared to Jordan Peele’s unforgettable and unmatched “sink into the floor” moment) and Upgrade (body horror). Other works that come to mind? 2003’s Identity, Self/less, Transcendence, Blade Runner, and the Assassin’s Creed video games. Mentioning those features may give readers some idea of Black Box. Wholly original it is not; however, how it manages to keep interest despite a notable layer of predictability is kind of impressive.
Black Box serves as the full-length directorial debut for Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, who is also credited as writer. A director’s handle is one of those traits that can somewhat be determined within the first 10-15 minutes. How a director handles even simple conversations and the fashion in how key information is communicated shows a lot on his or her’s comfort level. Watching Osei-Kuffour’s initial outing simply gives the feeling as if he’s done this before. Scenes that incorporate heavy sci-fi and flashback elements are well done, with flourishes of those aforementioned movies paired with a steady score from Brian Roberts. With a bigger budget, I’d love to see what Osei-Kuffour can concoct.
As far as the script goes, Black Box is in need of deeper calibration. The synopsis is good, though the execution is wanting, particularly around the mid-movie twist. It certainly does not doom it, but difficult it is to go along with the logistical specifics of what Osei-Kuffour is pushing. Not so much the science-fiction aspect, more so the interpersonal dynamics that follows the sci-fi. Vague I imagine that reads, but if viewed, you’ll know immediately what yours truly is referring to. And tagged partly as a horror, Black Box underwhelms; better to see this as a sci-fi/thriller hybrid.
For all those nitpicks, Black Box works enough thanks to the direction first and its cast second. Athie has a complex role here that he pulls off without a hitch, and after starring earlier this year in Uncorked, the star potential for the young man is pointing up. Rashad, going against type as an ethically compromised scientist, still manages to show a touch of humanity. At the heart of the film is an unbreakable bond between Nolan and Ava—played by a strong Christine who inverts the parent-child relationship being forced to serve as the caretaker as Nolan desperately attempts to find himself. Their glue centers Black Box, in a weird way making the feature best as a drama. By the end, it is hard not to be invested in what may or may not happen to them.
What’s in the Black Box? The type of film that—if director and cast take off over the years—may be looked at in the future as a “nice, nifty little watch” worth revisiting down the line.
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