“Black Box”, which was released on Amazon Prime a few days ago, entertained me enough as digging a bit into its familiar genre territories. If you have ever watched similar genre pieces like Christopher Nolan’s “Memento” (2000), you will know well from the very beginning of the story that you should not trust anything about its apparently unreliable hero, but I assure you that the movie will not disappoint you mainly thanks to its fairly solid storytelling and several engaging performances to watch.
At first, the movie establishes the daily struggle of a photographer named Nolan (Mamoudou Athie), who has been recovering from a serious case of amnesia caused by a big accident which sadly took away his dear wife’s life at that time. With the caring help and assistance of his plucky young daughter Ava (Amanda Christine), Nolan tries to regain his personal memories, but, alas, there has not been much progress, and his recent attempt to resume his professional career only leads to more frustration for him.
Frequently feeling not so fine with many blanks somewhere in his mind, Nolan begins to consider accepting an offer from Dr. Lillian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad), who has badgered him a lot since he was released from a hospital where she has incidentally worked. As a renowned neuroscience researcher, she has been developing a state-of-the-art device which seems to be for helping amnesiac patients like Nolan, and she is quite eager to put Nolan through a series of sessions where she is going to test her invention upon him.
Nolan is naturally skeptical during his first meeting with Dr. Brooks, but he eventually agrees to have several sessions with her, and her device turns out be quite more helpful than he expected. In addition to showing a considerable potential under her hypnosis, Nolan gradually gains his several old memories during the following next sessions, and that seems to help him improve his rather strained relationship with his daughter at present.
However, Nolan subsequently becomes baffled with his supposedly regained memories. For example, the first one is about a wedding where he is supposed to be the groom, but he cannot see the faces of other figures around him including his bride, and, as shown from a brief shot, his wedding photograph does not match with what he comes to remember again at all. Moreover, one domestic memory he regains later places him in a small apartment with two faceless figures who seem to be his wife and daughter, but, as far as he knows, he has always resided in a big and cozy suburban house since he married his wife.
And there is also quite a disturbing matter involved with a certain entity which appears to Nolan more than before as he begins his sessions with Dr. Brooks. While Dr. Brooks assures to him that this is just the manifestation of some self-defense mechanism of his mind, Nolan still cannot help but become more and more uncomfortable, so he consequently decides to search for the answer for himself.
Now I should be more careful about describing the film, though you may already have a pretty good idea on what is going on if you are a seasoned genre consumer like me. Yes, I was not so surprised much around the narrative point where the screenplay by director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr. and his co-writers Stephen Herman and Wade Allain-Marcus, which is based on the story by Herman, comes to reveal what has been barely hidden under the surface right from the start, but the movie promptly moves beyond that with some thought-provoking ideas, and it also generates enough tension for us to care about what will happen in the end.
The movie depends a lot on the good acting of Mamoudou Athie, who previously drew my attention via his supporting turn in “The Front Runner” (2018) and “Underwater” (2020) and then demonstrated more of his talent and presence in recent Netflix film “Uncorked” (2020). In addition to being believable in his character’s increasingly tricky personal journey, Athie also handles well several key scenes later in the film where he smoothly alternates between pity and terror, and his skillful performance functions well as a strong base for what is inevitably unfolded during the expected climatic scene.
Several other main cast members hold each own place well around Athie. While Phylicia Rashad surely has lots of dark fun with the shady aspects of her supporting character, young performer Amanda Christine is sweet and lively as Nolan’s caring little daughter, Charmaine Bingwa, Tosin Morohunfola, and Donald Watkins are suitably cast in their respective supporting roles.
“Black Box” is the first movie produced from an 8-part deal between Blumhouse Productions and Amazon Studios (Jason Blum participated in the production of the movie as one of its executive producers). Although the movie does not break any new ground in my inconsequential opinion, Osei-Kuffour, who made several short films before making a feature film debut here, and his crew members did a competent job of engaging us enough during its 100-minute running time, and his main cast members are commendable in bringing some human qualities to its familiar genre exercise. In short, this is a promising start for the collaboration between Blumhouse and Amazon Studios, and I hope that the following seven genre flicks will be as entertaining as this at least.