Review by Sean Boelman
One of the four films in Amazon’s anthology series in partnership with horror company Blumhouse, Welcome to the Blumhouse, Emmanuel Osei-Kuffor’s Black Box is probably the most traditional of the bunch. Still, because of strong direction and some excellent performances, this manages to feel like more than just a lower-key Get Out.
The movie follows a single father who begins to question his identity after beginning an experimental treatment to help combat the amnesia he suffers after a devastating car accident. Low-concept sci-fi has to have a very thoughtful script to be able to work since it doesn’t have a large scale to use as a crutch, and Osei-Kuffor along with co-writers Wade Allain-Marcus and Stephen Herman are able to make their film feel sufficiently deep.
Like the rest of the anthology, this movie’s main themes revolve around the family unit. And there is definitely a lot going on here, particularly in the subplots. The main dynamic, between the protagonist and his daughter, is very compelling, but there are some even more intriguing relationships that reveal themselves as the twists begin to fall into place.
Without a doubt, the single strongest aspect of this film is its cast. Rising star Mamoudou Athie finally gets the chance to shine in a horror movie (after being the stereotypical first to die in his last effort in the genre), and he brings a great deal of empathy to the show. The legendary Phylicia Rashad is also wonderful in her first performance ever in the genre.
The film does come up short in its exploration of the idea of memory and trauma. Although there is a lot of potential in the movie’s world, budget constraints prevent these heavily sci-fi-based sequences from going on for too long, and as a result, the script falls back on more conventional melodrama to fill in the gaps.
Additionally, the look of the film isn’t quite as immersive as one would hope. For a movie that so heavily features near-future technology, one would think that there would be a lot more effort put into making the film feel eerily in the present. Instead, there is a certain level of disconnect, with less of a surreal feeling and more of a cold and clinical one.
That isn’t to say that the movie is ever boring — it’s consistently entertaining and the character work early on will invest the audience in the story despite the bumps along the road. There are also some horror sequences that are quite unsettling thanks to a great physical performance from performer Troy James.
Black Box doesn’t have quite as much originality as one would hope, but there is a lot going on here that is sure to allow it to be a hit with genre fans. Emmanuel Osei-Kuffor is definitely an exciting filmmaker, but the highlights are Mamoudou Athie and Phylicia Rashad.
Black Box streams on Amazon Prime beginning October 6.