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Welcome to the Blumhouse: Part One – ‘Black Box’ & ‘The Lie’

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Producer Jason Blum has long been a champion of rising filmmakers. Through his Blumhouse production company, he has built a reputation for low-cost high-reward genre filmmaking that allows budding writers and directors to gain access to a larger audience.

His latest project is “Welcome to the Blumhouse,” an anthology film series developed in partnership with Amazon. All told, this series will consist of eight feature-length films, with four being released this October and the other four released sometime in 2021.

The first two in the series dropped on October 6. Leading off, we have “Black Box,” directed by Emmanuel Osei-Jouffer from a screenplay Osei-Jouffer co-wrote with Stephen Herman, and “The Lie,” directed by Veena Sud, who also wrote the script, an adaptation of the German film “Wir Monster.” While the films aren’t necessarily the sort of straightforward horror offerings that audiences might expect from Blumhouse, there’s still plenty here worth seeing.

The truth is that these films might not be quite ready to work as standalone offerings, but as part of the grander picture under the anthology umbrella, they’re more than sufficient. Each film has its flaws, to be sure, but they also put the considerable talents of their respective makers on full display, which is a big part of the point. Again, if you’re here for “Paranormal Activity” and the like, you might be left wanting, but there’s a lot more to Jason Blum’s shop. Why not give it a try?

“Black Box” is the story of Nolan (Mamadou Athie, “Uncorked”), a man struggling to deal with the aftermath of a tragic car accident. The crash has left him with significant amnesia – he can’t remember anything about his life before. His struggles are such that he’s left to rely on his young daughter Ava (Amanda Christine, “Miss Virginia”) to help him navigate the world.

His frustration with his inability to remember continues to grow. Finally, with a little encouragement from his doctor friend Gary (Tosin Morohunfola, “The 24th”), Nolan agrees to start working with Dr. Brooks (Phylicia Rashad, “A Fall from Grace”), a neuroscientist who has developed an experimental device – called a black box – designed to help those suffering from brain trauma recover their memories.

The treatment does start opening up Nolan’s memories, but there’s something sinister lurking behind the fragments he recovers, a twisted and shadowy presence that he doesn’t understand. Dr. Brooks tells him that it is his own brain trying to protect him from the repressed trauma, but as Nolan goes deeper, he finds himself questioning what he finds … and whether he really is the man he believes himself to be.

“The Lie” tells the tale of a divorced couple confronted with what it means to protect their child. Rebecca (Mireille Enos, TV’s “Hanna”) is a corporate lawyer struggling to stay connected with her teenage daughter Kayla (Joey King, “The Kissing Booth 2”). She enlists her kind-of shiftless ex-husband Jay (Peter Sarsgaard, TV’s “Interrogation”) to drive Rebecca to dance camp.

On the way, they pass Kayla’s friend Britney (Devery Jacobs, “Blood Quantum”) waiting at the bus stop; Jay picks her up to give her a ride. Along the way, the two girls ask to stop for a bathroom break; Jay pulls over and they head into the woods. After an unexpectedly long wait, he goes in looking for them. He finds Kayla sitting on a bridge alone; Britney is nowhere to be seen. When he asks where she is, Kayla tearfully confesses to pushing her. Confused and rattled, Jay takes his daughter and they flee the scene.

Upon their return, Jay brings Rebecca into the loop, explaining to her what had happened. In an effort to protect their daughter, they decide to cover up what happened. However, when Britney’s dad Sam (Cas Anvar, TV’s “The Expanse”) shows up looking for her, the web of lies must expand. And when the authorities become involved, it must expand yet again. Still, Jay and Rebecca are grimly determined to protect their daughter from the consequences of her actions – and are willing to do whatever it takes to do so.

There’s a thinness to both of these films that belies their anthological origins – neither one feels quite fully-baked. That said, both are intriguing. Despite their surface differences, there are some real core similarities here – the value of family connections as well as their potential cost, for instance. These are both films that place immense importance on familial dynamics – particularly the parent/child relationship. And both find ways in which to evoke suspense and creeping dread, though they utilize different tactics to get there.

Of the two, “Black Box” is probably the more successful in terms of narrative punch, although neither film fully pulls off its efforts at twisty-turny plot construction. In terms of performance, they’re probably about equal – “The Lie” gets a lot of mileage out of the cranked-up family drama, though “Black Box” finds its spots as well. Both are admirable efforts by relatively inexperienced feature filmmakers – Sud has some documentary and episodic TV experience, while Osei-Jouffer has a few shorts, but neither has anything quite to this level on their resume.

These are a pair of solid genre offerings. Flawed, to be sure, but worthwhile on their respective merits. If this is the level of quality we can expect from “Welcome to the Blumhouse,” then these films will be welcome indeed.

“Black Box” – [3.5 out of 5]

“The Lie” – [3 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 12 October 2020 10:24

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