October 6, 2020 Black Box (Movie Review)
Severe amnesia causes a man to question his identity in Blumhouse Television’s Black Box, an Amazon Original that arrives on Prime Video on Tuesday, October 6, 2020.
From the producer of 2017’s Get Out and 2018’s Upgrade, Black Box is a phenomenal feature-length debut for Director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, Jr. (The First Time short 2010, Born with It short 2015), who co-wrote the screenplay alongside Stephen Herman (Last Call short 2012, Message Received short 2016). The film details the story of Nolan (Mamoudou Athie: The Circle 2017, Underwater 2020), a 33-year-old man who is suffering from amnesia due to a car accident that tragically took the life of his wife, Rachel (Najah Bradley: Unplanned 2019, Dynasty series). Struggling to recover his memories for the sake of his young daughter, Ava (Amanda Christine: Colony series, Bunk’d series), he enlists in an experimental treatment program run by Dr. Lillian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad: The Cosby Show series, For Colored Girls 2010).
Despite the recommendation of his best friend, Gary (Tosin Morohunfola: Love Is_ series, The Chi series), a doctor himself, Nolan has his doubts about the treatment, which involves a combination of hypnosis, electroencephalogram (EEG), and a strange, virtual reality-like device called a ‘black box.’ Though when his very first session yields results and he recovers the memory of his wedding day, Nolan plunges headfirst into a complicated web that will soon lead him to question if his subconscious is trying to prevent him from reclaiming his identity?
A unique blend of Horror-Thriller and Sci-Fi offering, Black Box culls together elements of the Psychological Thriller with medical science fiction and body horror to create a Thriller the likes of which you have not seen just yet—which is both good and bad. To make an admittedly poor comparison, the film falls somewhere in the creative void between the aforementioned Get Out and 2019’s Netflix Original Fractured. Even Sam Worthington’s phenomenal acting couldn’t rescue the latter from being largely predictable, and something similar can be said for Athie and Black Box.
Due to the intricacy of this tale, the film’s 100 minute runtime is chock-full of plot development. Without providing any spoilers, we’ll say this: the story has never been done exactly like this before, particularly in film, but its ultimate conclusion feels less exciting than the performances that bring us to its door. In short: Black Box rests heavily upon some truly stellar acting that makes your time spent within its confines more enjoyable than its conclusion.
That said, the cast—which also includes Donald Elise Watkins (Roots mini-series, The Free State of Jones 2016), Troy James (Hellboy 2019, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark 2019), Charmaine Bingwa (Little Sista series, In the Shadows short 2019), Nyah Marie Johnson (The Chosen series, Shaft 2019), and more—is outstanding. Carefully bringing moviegoers along for this bizarre ride, Black Box’s success would not be possible without each of these talents.
And it all starts with Christine. Within the first four minutes of the film it’s already clear that this young lady is a phenomenal firecracker who is going to do great things. Whatever that amorphous quality known as ‘star power’ is, this pint-sized actress has it in spades. Make no mistake: as Nolan’s precious daughter Ava, she is in control of every situation and brings a zest to each of her scenes that, despite the often dark nature of the story, forces a smile onto your face.
As her fictional father, Athie keeps up easily, delivering a truly memorable performance in the complicated role of Nolan. In an effort to avoid spoilers, let’s just say that there are multiple facets to his character and the talented actor navigates these tangled avenues with a seeming ease. For this, Nolan is likable, organic in his interactions with Christine and, most important to his role, easily able to earn the empathy of audience goers.
Sadly, these days it feels like it’s rare that in film or literature the ‘best friend’ is truly as free of ulterior motives, and warm and caring as they initially appear to be. (No wonder the world is full of so many toxic relationships!) Thankfully, we can safely share that Morohunfola’s Gary is the real deal: a friend who places Nolan and Ava first, and does his best to support them in their time of need. The charismatic actor suits the role beautifully as he delivers the best friend that we could all learn a thing or two from.
Not to be overlooked, the lovely Miss Rashad is immediately familiar for anyone who grew up with The Cosby Show and adored Clair Huxtable like a second mom. And the lovely actress’ motherly manner is perfectly suited to her role here, as well, allowing her to portray a doctor who is, first and foremost, a mother.
With all of these excellent portrayals and more, Black Box really is an enjoyable watch that’s heavy with talent. So while it’s more than likely that viewers are apt to either love the unique plot-twist or simply roll their eyes, the film commits to luring its watchers into Nolan’s struggle. The less you know about the intricate details, the better you will be when you sit down to watch, but know that you cannot be a passive viewer if you wish to follow this labyrinthine story. For all of the above, Cryptic Rock gives Black Box 4 of 5 stars.