Much ado has been made about J.J. Abrams’s mystery box. (Too much, if you ask Abrams himself. And if you ask me. But here I am, writing about it anyway!) But that’s because the concept — the idea that a box, when unopened, “represents infinite possibility, hope, and potential” — is particularly salient when used to explain the singular flaw in nearly all of Abrams’s projects.
As our own Amy Nicholson noted in her 10 Cloverfield Lane review, Abrams is a marketing genius. Creating and sustaining hype is his true gift. Were he not also a talented filmmaker, we might find Abrams selling knockoff haute couture en masse out of the trunk of his car, convincing hordes of dudes that each Fucci cuff link held the secret to the universe. But herein lies the problem with that whole “mystery box” thing: Abrams consistently takes the conceit both too far and not far enough, building up anticipation that cannot possibly be rewarded, then revealing what’s up either way too soon or way too sloppily and with deeply disappointing results. More specifically, Abrams lets the air out of nearly every single one of his films by doing something horror fans have been debating the merits of since the beginning of Horror Time: revealing the monster. Almost always poorly and with much fanfare.