Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine, Tosin Morohunfola, Charmaine Bingwa, Donald Elise Watkins, Troy James
Written by: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, Wade Allain-Marcus, Stephen Herman
Directed by: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 100
Date: 10/06/2020

Black Box (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Memory Plane

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Producer Jason Blum and his production company Blumhouse have become household names among horror fans, and their penchant for producing low-budget hits has resulted in movies and franchises ranging from Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and Happy Death Day, to the acclaimed Get Out.

Now, in a perfect pandemic move, the company has given us "Welcome to the Blumhouse," a series of four genre films available to subscribers of Amazon Prime.

The third and fourth, Evil Eye and Nocturne will drop on October 13, while the first two, Black Box and The Lie debuted Tuesday, October 6.

Neither of the first two films totally qualifies as pure "horror." Black Box is more science fiction, while The Lie is mostly a thriller without any supernatural elements.

Directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour (making his feature debut), Black Box begins with a new father, Nolan (Mamoudou Athie), weeping tears of joy while holding his newborn daughter.

Cut to some years later, and Nolan gazes at photos, apparently trying to make sense of the people depicted in them.

His daughter, Ava (Amanda Christine), now a delightfully bossy thing, helps get him ready for a job interview. His hand is in a bandage, and there is a mysterious hole in the wall across the room. Something is amiss.

Beautifully told, and doling out details a little at a time, the story eventually comes clear. Nolan is a professional photographer who has lost his wife in a car accident, while he himself has lost his memory.

After the job interview goes south, he goes to visit Gary (Tosin Morohunfola), a doctor. Gary recommends that he visit a memory specialist (Phylicia Rashad). She begins a series of virtual-reality-style treatments, wherein Nolan finds himself inhabiting his own memories.

One problem is that no one in these memories has any faces. Another problem is that a scary, impossibly bendy human-like thing keeps trying to get him. Then, Nolan finds himself occupying memories he's never had, in places he's never been. One of them suggests that he may even have been abusive to Ava.

Without giving much more away, Black Box turns into a seriously demented Frankenstein-type story, in which characters try to play God and go way too far.

It requires quite a strong suspension of disbelief, but at least the motives are pure and make some emotional sense, and Osei-Kuffour's careful, mysterious storytelling keeps a tight grip on things.

If anything, little Christine emerges as the star, smarter and sassier than all the adults around her.

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