Where “The Box” and “Knock at the Cabin” overlap the most is in their “Twilight Zone”-inspired moral and ethical parables. Both movies present their characters with a dilemma that strikes at the tension between logic and belief, as well as the struggle between selfishness and altruism.
In “Knock at the Cabin,” Leonard and his compatriots continue to insist that Andrew and Eric must make a sacrifice if the human race is to be saved; the only alternative if they choose not to make a choice is that they’ll survive in a ruined world devoid of other people. In “The Box,” the endgame for pressing the button turns out to be Norma and Arthur’s only child, Walter (Sam Oz Stone), being stricken blind and deaf by Steward’s supernatural powers. Steward gives the couple one last test: one of them can choose to sacrifice the other, allowing Walter to regain his senses and keep the money in a trust fund for his use. Alternatively, they can keep the money for themselves and go on living with a newly disabled son.
The resemblance between these life-and-death ethical quandaries and psychological exercises makes each film into a sort of cinematic depiction of a social experiment, a quality that Shyamalan and Kelly lean into by providing no concrete and correct “answer.” In “Knock,” the relationship between any sacrifice made and seemingly natural apocalyptic events in the world can be seen as either supernaturally entwined or incredible coincidence, In “The Box,” the free will behind Norma and Arthur’s choices is cruelly manipulated by Steward and his associates, causing the couple’s fortunes to sour before they’re asked to press the button, and the passing on of the box to a new couple just as Norma and Arthur are asked to make a sacrifice calls into question whether or not they ever had a choice at all.
Fortunately, you, dear reader, are spoiled for choice: whether you choose to see “Knock at the Cabin,” “The Box,” or both, you’re in for a memorably engaging time.