Black Box isn’t a revelatory thriller, but it’s just unnerving enough to get the job done for most of its 90-minute run time of keeping viewers entertained and on edge.
Nolan (Mamoudou Athie, Uncorked) has awoken into a nightmare. A horrific car crash resulted in the death of his wife and a devastating case of amnesia. Piecing together his memories through video recordings and books, Nolan’s biggest help is his young daughter, Ava (Amanda Christine).
Ava ends up doing more than a nine-year-old should be tasked with as she makes dinner and in many ways has to parent herself while Nolan struggles with his memory. As well as these traumatic visions that get increasingly more violent whenever he does manage to get some restful sleep.
Fearful that he’s going to lose custody of Ava, Nolan decides to take his best friend Gary’s (Tosin Morohunfola, Always a Bridesmaid) advice and take a consultation with Dr. Lillian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad, A Fall From Grace), a pioneer in memory restoration efforts. Nolan just so happens to be an ideal patient for the innovative process, which involves placing him into a VR simulation of his old memories in hopes of triggering everything. The process proves a success, but not in the way Nolan expects as there’s another presence slowly chasing after him in the VR world.
To say much more would go into major spoiler territory, but director/co-writer Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, Jr. keeps the suspense going until the big payoff. This doesn’t actually come at the end of the film as some other subplots have to get addressed first. It makes for a detour that steals some of the urgency of the final act.
The film’s biggest stretch is that screenwriters Stephen Herman, Wade Allain-Marcus and Osei-Kuffour, Jr. don’t address the questionable logic of a child basically raising an amnesiac parent who needs reminders for simple tasks like picking her up from school.
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It seems like there would be some sort of liability issue. There also probably should have been some throwaway line explaining that Nolan doesn’t have any family — it’s inconceivable that his parents, siblings, cousins, whoever would leave him to fend for himself.
Part of what drives the film is the sense of Nolan’s isolation and inability to go to anyone besides Gary for help. Still, even then Gary seems somewhat negligent in looking out for his best friend.
It also seemed like the writers were intentionally trying to keep Nolan away from helpful technology like a cell phone with an alarm to get Ava, voice recordings with basic steps like directions to old locations and helpful contact information.
Special effects aren’t a major component of the film, but those that are included are executed fine. Less really is more sometimes and these effects were efficient and trying to do something too showy would have ruined the impact.
The performances are what really keeps the film together. It’s no surprise that Rashad more than holds her own in every scene. Athie has a likable presence and the kind of gentle everyman caught in a nightmare that works well in the thriller/horror genre. Christine delivers a heartstring-tugging performance that is even more impressive considering her age.
Black Box is engaging and has a fascinating take on coping with loss through technology.