FILM REVIEW: BLACK BOX channels GET OUT by way of FRANKENSTEIN in this sci-fi take on identity theft.


The inaugural entry in Amazon’s new WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE series channels themes from some of the studio’s past films in this intriguing Black Mirror-like take on identity theft.

The best science fiction and genre tales are those that work without the artifice of the genre element and tell a human story at its heart. Stories about the resiliency of the human spirit, about redemption from anger and hatred, and the lengths that love for another can drive someone towards are universal and at the heart of some of the best genre classics. These are themes that are all heavily explored in BLACK BOX, the inaugural entry in the new Amazon Video series WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE, debuting on October 6th on Prime.
Director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr. has us follow Nolan Wright (Mamoudou Athie), a renowned photographer who has lost his memory after a car crash that cost him not only his memory due to a traumatic brain injury but also his wife. Wright feels lost after the crash; he has to write himself notes to keep on track and he’s lost the spark that gave his photography life. His daughter Eva (Amanda Christine) tries to keep him on track and helps organize his day, hoping his memory will come back. But Nolan’s frustration mounts as he loses an important photography gig and his friend refers him to a doctor named Lilian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad) who feels that she can help Nolan regain his memory after a successful, yet creepy, first session using a hypnosis therapy she dubs the Black Box. But as the memories that he recovers from the Black Box don’t match those in his photos, Nolan starts to wonder if there is something much more sinister afoot, especially when a creepy broken jangly man starts invading these sessions to run him out of there.

One of the issues with Black Box is that it liberally pays homage to other films to such a degree that it feels excessive. The Black Box experience, triggered by hypnosis, instantly is reminiscent of “the sunken place” in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a comparison that will likely strike any viewer watching it and keep it in mind throughout the rest of the film, which is very much like Get Out. Black Box has shades of several other Blumhouse films, most notably Upgrade and All That We Destroy, almost feeling like a spiritual sequel to Chelsea Stardust’s Into the Dark entry. But these influences give it a very Black Mirror vibe as well. To the film’s credit, it transcends a lot of this tip of the hat homaging with great performances from Athie, Rashad and Christine in particular, who helps ground the film and Nolan’s character, especially when she hands him a note that says Don’t Forget Me. The film’s final act has some issues and plays with the themes of domestic abuse a bit lightly, but it’s to the credit of Athie that his performance makes it work, as well as an assist from actor Donald Watkins whose role could have been one-note but keeps the film working all the way to its final stinger.

In the end, Black Box is an engrossing genre tale, albeit a bit derivative. But the solid performances that have become an essential part of the winning Blumhouse formula keep the film on terra firma even when it’s reach seems to exceed its grasp at times. Black Box feels like an episode of Black Mirror and that’s a good thing versus feeling like a bad B movie which it could’ve been given the subject matter.

– 3 out of 5 Stars
Black Box is a bit derivative of better films, but tells a small story that feels grounded with good performances.