As Sci-Fi goes, The Box is somewhat standard issue for circa 1970s pulp. A simple yet elegant moral dilemma is drawn out and turned into a full length feature film with bizarre Twilight Zone-esque overtones.
My problem with it: First, it was released in 2009 and aside from the possible motivation of keeping the story true to the short story which inspired it, there is really no reason it should have been set in 1976. In fact, given the current "retro" style trends it actually took me several minutes to be sure it was meant to be a different time period at all.
However, that is mere kibitzing compared to the over all theme of the piece which didn't become apparent until the end. SPOILER ALERT Do not read further unless you want some of the movie ruined.
Now that that is taken care of....
A quick synopsis: Husband, wife, son. Husband wants to be an astronaut, wife is a private school teacher, son is a plot point later and otherwise virtually inconsequential. The receive a mysterious box with a button on it. They later meet Mr. Steward who poses the moral dilemma. Push the button, receive one million dollars, but somewhere, someone they don't know, dies as a consequence. They have 24 hours to decide. In that time, husband is shot down for acceptance into the space program, wife will be losing some kind of tuition benefits. They agonize over possible outcomes from rationalizing that it could be a murderer on death row, to the husband posing the question "what does it mean to really know someone?" Which sadly go nowhere. In the last few minutes as they sit at the table, the wife pushes the button.
A recurring theme that I did like was the idea "any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic." Mr. Steward is set up as an almost Faustian devil character with observational powers and a few other fun little effects like controlling people for short times.
At the same time they pushed the button, a fellow in the town shot his wife at point blank in the heart and ran away.
To shorten the plot so that I may get to the point, after some tedious investigating and odd scenes that had potential but little to no development, the couple are confronted with the true consequences of their decision. Their son is struck blind and deaf, and another moral dilemma is presented them. They can keep the money and condemn their son to a life of silence and darkness, OR... the husband can shoot the wife (since she pushed the button) in the heart and "when her spirit leaves her body" the son will be healed and the money will be put in an account for him when he turns 18.
On to the end of the movie? Cut scenes between wife and husband's teary goodbyes as the decision is made to shoot her and save their son, and another husband and wife sitting at a table as the wife in the new couple announces her intent and then pushes the button. The gun fires, the son is cured, the husband is taken into custody and we're left with... what message?
Be careful what you wish for? Be aware of the choices you make even if you don't know who they will effect? Nah... Not really the strongest message I got from it. No, the message I got was a regurgitated, misogynistic re-telling of that lovely biblical theme "It's all women's fault and men have to be the 'strong' ones and clean up their mistakes."
That message, of course could have been easily avoided by simply showing a man pressing the button, even just the guy at the end instead of the wife. That's my main problem with the overall message of the movie.
The acting was mediocre at best, the characters were flat and boring and the storyline dragged on longer than it needed to (which is a problem with a lot of movies based on short stories... there's a reason they were SHORT stories, after all).
Over all, I'd give the movie two out of five stars if only because of the repetition of the idea that it was somehow not necessarily "spiritual" or "supernatural" but just "technology sufficiently advanced [so as to be] indistinguishable from magic". Otherwise, it had potential but lacked execution.
That is, of course, as with all critics, just my opinion. :-)