Following the success of The Invisible Man earlier this year, Blumhouse have teamed up with Amazon Studios to produce Welcome to the Blumhouse. This is a series of original anthology genre films described as “unique, unsettling thrillers” from diverse and underrepresented casts and filmmakers. The first four instalments will launch exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in time for Halloween, with The Lie and Black Box debuting first.
Directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr, Black Box centres on news photographer Nolan Wright (Mamoudou Athie). Following the loss of his wife and his memory in a car accident, Nolan is determined to regain his old self for his young daughter Ava (Amanda Christine). After discovering an experimental new treatment which might reverse his condition, he visits neuropsychiatrist Dr. Lillian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad) to participate in the trial. But once inside the Black Box hypnosis device, he discovers potentially deadly unearthed memories inside his psyche, leading him to question who he really is.
Much like Blumhouses’ The Invisible Man, this is a tense and gripping psychological thriller which instantly captivates you into the mystery. With a fascinating Black Mirror-esque central concept, Black Box takes you on an emotional descent into one man’s shattered subconscious and psyche. There’s plenty of twists and turns in the layered narrative which gradually unravels, keeping you engaged and guessing throughout. The recent unveiling of Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a company which uses brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers, lends the futuristic concept an air of timeliness and authenticity. Exploring the complicated layers of the human mind, particularly through trauma and amnesia, does feel a little well trodden, but Osei-Kuffour Jr brings a compelling and intelligent sci-fi/horror twist to the genre.
The Get Down’s Mamoudou Athie leads a fantastic ensemble cast in this high concept instalment. Athie is hugely convincing as a Nolan, who’s struggling to come to terms with memory loss, along with the death of his wife. You instantly feel for him, along with his daughter, who he heartbreakingly forgets to pick up from school on a number of occasions. Much like Memento, Nolan makes for a fascinating but unreliable narrator, often experiencing blackouts and losing track of time. Athie brings a notable depth to the role, commanding the screen particularly towards the latter half of the film. Amanda Christine is also wonderful as Ava and definitely one to watch. She’s the real heart of the film, proving to be Nolan’s anchor throughout his treatment in a wonderful father/daughter dynamic.
This is certainly a well shot film with impressive production values interspersed with creepy horror elements. Once inside the ECG device, Nolan uses a watch to unlock and travel through memories, adding a virtual reality element to the film. Exploring his shadowy memories, he encounters eerily blurred faces along with a contorted but dangerous figure which attempts to attack him. The sound design of these sequences are particularly effective; pairing the movement of the monster with an awful cracking noise, as if it’s breaking bones with each step. Unlike The Invisible Man, there isn’t a huge amount of jump scares or explicit horror sequences, leaning more into the psychological thriller notion with uncomfortable close-ups and a tense and suspenseful score.
Black Box is a hugely gripping outing featuring numerous impressive performance. Osei-Kuffour Jr puts an inventive twist on the genre, with an intriguing ending which will leave you speculating long after the credits roll.