Studio: Blumhouse/Amazon Studios
Director: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.
Writer: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr., Stephen Herman
Producer: John Brister
Stars: Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine, Tosin Morohunfola, Charmaine Bingwa, Donald Watkins
A widowed father with amnesia undergoes an experimental memory recovery treatment that challenges him to unlock the secrets of his true identity.
Six months ago, Nolan lost his wife in a devastating car accident. Nolan also lost most of his memories in that same crash. Still recovering from brief brain death, Nolan uses Post-It notes to remember basic tasks like where to put clean plates, which is to say nothing of how hard it is to remember more important matters like picking up his daughter Ava from elementary school.
Luckily, Ava learned to handle herself. She¡¯s one of those too-cute movie kids who more commonly populate romantic comedies. Despite an age not yet in double digits, Ava¡¯s beyond-her-years wisdom and consistently chipper optimism keep Nolan buoyed. She even makes dinner most nights, deftly tapping around dad¡¯s phone for recipes and plotting grocery store pickups like a pro.
Relative newcomer Amanda Christine steals every single second when she overtakes the screen as Ava. The young actress still has raw instincts that see her momentarily forgetting technical tricks like not letting her eyes flick toward the camera. But the personality she puts into Ava compensates for less personable co-stars who are no match for her vibrancy anyway. Don¡¯t be surprised if Amanda Christine becomes a breakout.
¡°Black Box¡¯s¡± other big acting boon comes courtesy of Phylicia Rashad. Rashad plays Dr. Brooks, a neuroscientist who believes Nolan could be an ideal candidate for her experimental memory recovery treatment. A headset dubbed ¡°black box¡± is the key component in her research. The device purports to probe a subject¡¯s subconscious and create immersive virtual experiences out of whatever memory fragments it can find.
Because the movie requires imaginary science to power its premise, it falls on Dr. Brooks to deliver plenty of plot-pushing dialogue full of foundation-laying exposition. That¡¯s how Rashad earns her MVP trophy. It takes a veteran of her considerable caliber to give gravitas to thankless tech-speak. Simply by virtue of being Phylicia Rashad, Dr. Brooks instantly commands ¡®sit up straight and pay attention¡¯ respect, making the most out of a character who might otherwise fade into a mere fiction facilitator. ¡°Black Box¡± could never become as gripping without the way Rashad expertly cooks basic screenwriting necessities.
¡°Black Box¡± doesn¡¯t take long to get spooky. More suggestively supernatural than tangibly terrifying, a couple of typical ¡°starter scares¡± lead off proceedings. Hands come from behind to land on shoulders. Nightmare sequences feature faceless people. A creature-like contortionist crawls backwards before going on the attack in Nolan¡¯s strange visions.
¡°Black Box¡± takes its time showing us the substance building behind the story however. To make your mind race, movie mysteries must inspire constant questions like, what really happened in between two specific scenes, who might really be responsible for some upsetting action, and so on. ¡°Black Box¡± hits a hurdle on that front during the establishing stage.
When Dr. Brooks begins delving into Nolan¡¯s mind, ¡°Black Box¡± doesn¡¯t dole out firm whos, whats, wheres, or whens. We see strange things, meet unidentified people, and are taken to unfamiliar places. Since initial clues don¡¯t come with context to chew on, our brains don¡¯t know what questions to ask. Are we supposed to wonder about secret identities, extramarital affairs, possible murders, or what exactly? In the dark ends up being a befuddling place to wait patiently until ¡°Black Box¡± readies to reveal more concrete secrets.
In the meantime, ¡°Black Box¡± fortunately manages to mold intrigue out of crumbs of crumbs. Even with a semi-familiar setup and without truly twisty suspense, drama drives the movie thanks to simple, solid performances and a to-the-point pace with only a minimal percentage of fat on the runtime.
¡°Black Box¡± isn¡¯t a ¡®knock your socks off¡¯ thriller full of epic events and spectacular shocks. It¡¯s not designed to be. It¡¯s just straight science-fiction, no chaser. Its no-frills approach to quiet chills anchored on family trauma make it a compelling little ride that¡¯s ideal for a quick hit of eerie, sometimes sentimentally sweet, entertainment.
Review Score: 75