Welcome to the Blumhouse: Black Box Review

Welcome to the Blumhouse: Black Box Review

Blumhouse Television and Amazon Studios have teamed up to bring some serious style with Welcome to the Blumhouse, an eight-movie anthology launching on Amazon Prime from October 6 in time for Halloween. With a selection of diverse genre pieces from an equally diverse set of filmmakers, this series is one to keep an eye out for. Dropping first, alongside Veena Sud's The Lie, comes Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.'s Black Box, a debut feature that takes us deep into the realms of the subconscious but doesn't quite manage to reach any heights.

Newly single father, Nolan (Mamoudou Athie), is dealing with his new life after experiencing a car crash in which both his wife and his memory is lost. Sick of having to let his young daughter Ava (Amanda Christine) take care of him, Nolan undergoes experimental treatment led by psychiatrist Dr. Brookes (Phylicia Rashad). Promising to clear his amnesia through re-entering his repressed memories by way of the titular black box, Nolan's journey through his own subconscious is dark and full of mysteries that leave him questioning his reality.

Now, a hyper-stylised film that uses technology as a medium to explore familial, moral, and psychological themes is inevitably going to be likened to Black Mirror. However, there is validity in the comparisons to come. Within this film, there's a little bit of The Entire History of You, a little Playtest, and a little Black Museum. Though Black Box doesn't walk the same path as these episodes, the areas it explores do feel a little trodden. While I don't necessarily think this is the fault of the film, but more so of the cultural impact the Netflix show has had, Black Box doesn't push the boundaries enough for it to stand on its own. Nevertheless, the bone-cricking sound design of the 'thing' that haunts Nolan's mind is truly unsettling, taking the film a little closer to nightmarish territory.

At around the one hour mark Black Box really starts to get interesting - though some of the turns it takes aren't altogether shocking, there are some great moments and equally strong pay-offs. Throughout the entirety of the film, however, many scenes are spoiled by an overbearing soundtrack. The music is not itself bad, in fact, it's actually very good. The issue comes from the fact that the pieces are composed of well-known horror tropes and play over what feels like every scene. It gets to the point where you switch off as an active viewer, trying to piece together clues because the soundtrack seems to be telling you that everything is suspect and consequently nothing is.

Athie as Nolan gives a fine performance despite his character waning at times, partially due to pacing issues in the script. It's a shame as his initial introduction as a man mourning his inability to mourn is powerful. You see it as he looks over a plethora of post-it notes reminding him to 'turn off the coffee pot' and 'put cups here' or in the quiet moments where he looks at himself in the mirror and feels nothing but disconnect. His relationship with Ava is also one of the strongest elements of the film - she struggles to balance her desire to just be a child with the fact that she is the parent here, caring for her father while looking out for herself. It's both sad and endearing when you realise all those post-it notes were placed by her alone. It is Ava, alongside Nolan's best friend Gary (Tosin Morohunfola), that act as the emotional crux of the film and I wish we could have seen more of both of them.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Jason Blum commented that “one of the ways we’ve been able to make great movies and TV shows is to tap into pools of talent that haven’t been drawn on over the years". And while Black Box is a flawed film it is very evident that Osei-Kuffour Jr. has a keen eye and style that rightly ought to be drawn out more. So despite this not being a horror masterpiece, Blumhouse is doing something right. And I'd still consider this a decent 'Welcome' inside.

Welcome to the Blumhouse: Black Box will be available to watch on Amazon Prime from October 6 along with The Lie.

Overall

A stylised look at technology and the subconscious, but lacks the self-assuredness needed to surpass the Black Mirror phenomenon.

5

out of 10

Black Box (2020)
Dir: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour | Cast: Amanda Christine, Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Tosin Morohunfola | Writers: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, Stephen Herman, Wade Allain-Marcus

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