A few years back everybody loved Richard Kelly because he gave us Donnie Darko. Then it all went wrong with Southland Tales, a film so bizarre and confusing (and which went through multiple re-edits and revisions) it seriously dented his reputation. So he has a lot to prove with his latest movie The Box, an adaptation of a Richard Matheson short story that has already been used as the basis of a Twilight Zone episode.
“Maybe that’s a once in a lifetime thing,” Kelly muses pragmatically about Donnie Darko when SFX speaks to him. “Maybe I’ll never make a film again that connects with people that way. I’m certainly going to keep trying as long as they let me, but I don’t want to keep going back and repeating myself and recycling the same ideas. I certainly hope that, at the end of my career, there’s some debate over which film is the best, and not it’s just everybody saying it’s Darko.”
The Box is based on a classic “what would you do?” premise: a stranger presents an ordinary couple with a box and a proposition. If they press the button on the box, they’ll receive a million dollars but doing so will cause somebody, somewhere to kick the bucket. Rather than updating the 1970 short to the present day, however, Kelly decided it would work best in 1976, set against the backdrop of NASA’s Viking mission to Mars.
“Originally I was going to set it in the present day,” Kelly explains, “but the more I thought about it, with Google searches, social networking and the sort of hyperconnected surveillance culture that we live in now, the concept of someone you don’t know doesn’t work any more. When Mr Matheson wrote the short story it had so much more meaning, it was so much more dangerous. So it all came together when I set it in 1976 as a wonderful 1970s conspiracy-type film.”
Kelly reveals a lot more about The Box – including why the lead characters (played by Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) are based on his own parents – in an exclusive interview in the new issue of SFX, #190, on sale Wednesday 18 November. Join our Twitter feed so you get a reminder when the new issue comes out.