Black Box

By Nicole Sofia | Sci-Fi
A lonely wife tries to rekindle a dying marriage, then discovers a life-changing secret.

A woman lives with her husband in a well-appointed home linked to a voice assistant named Ophelia. But the couple is having problems, with the husband being cold and distant, locking himself away in the basement of their home.

On their anniversary, she wants to take a trip to the mountains and rekindle their marriage, but her husband is uninterested. Instead, he goes to his work in the basement, upsetting his wife, who tries to get into the basement. But she's barred from that room, exacerbating her feelings of loneliness. Left to her own devices once more, the wife manages to find her way into the basement, where she discovers the dark secret of her marriage.

Directed by Nicole Sofia with a script co-written by Sofia with Clara Gehl, this short sci-fi drama has flourishes of advanced tech in its characters' interaction with an omniscient voice assistant. But in its emphasis on the wife's emotional landscape, it also unfolds a deftly crafted dark relationship drama about love, obsession and grief at its most dysfunctional, asking questions about selfishness, relationships and what it means to love.

Both strands of the film's genres are served by the moody, darkly muted color palette and clean, almost antiseptic lighting, emphasizing the barrenness of the couple's life together. The only spot of visual joy comes from the view outside the window, which is controlled by voice assistant Ophelia. Ophelia also seems to be the only real interaction the wife has, especially since her husband seems thoroughly uninterested in her.

The dialogue painfully captures this cold, even cruel dynamic, as the wife attempts to be loving and agreeable and the husband barely acknowledges her presence, needs or attempts to reach out to him. Actor Brittany Howatt plays the wife with a natural sympathy, full of yearning for an emotionally richer connection to her husband, played by actor Cansin Duman in a tricky balancing act of detachment, exasperation and a feeling of already moving on from the relationship. Driven to understand what is going on, the wife finds her way into the basement, where she confronts just who she is and what she means to her husband.

In many ways, "Black Box" is a classic riff on the fairytale of Bluebeard, in which a young woman investigates the "black box" of her husband's inner life and discovers his true darkness at her own peril. While the well-paced, engaging narrative works on its own as a relationship drama, its intersection with the possibilities and concepts of A.I. also provokes thought and discussion of power in relationships. Are the wife's feelings real, and therefore deserving of consideration? Can or should we discard imperfections so quickly? Whose happiness takes precedence over another's? The chilling ending of "Black Box" bodes for a new chapter in an ongoing relationship, but it leaves us with these uneasy questions after the screen goes dark.

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