The always-reliable Timothy Hutton is front and center in the Spanish sci-fi production The Kovak Box -- but it's 78-year-old veteran character actor David Kelly who steals the movie whole. That's not to imply that the pair of performances is all that Daniel Monzon's flick has to offer; on the contrary, it's quite the nifty little mind-bender that I'd heard it was. Sort of a feature-length Twilight Zone episode that gets progressively stranger and more aggressive as it plays on, The Kovak Box is a low-key, compelling and surprisingly crisp little experience.
Hutton plays a famous science-fiction writer named David Norton. He and his girlfriend are attending a conference at a swanky hotel on the island of Mallorca. Things go more than a little haywire after Norton's girlfriend (actually, fiancee by this point) leaps out of the hotel window and splatters herself all over the street. (I'm not spoiling anything; this scene arrives within the first seven minutes.) Meanwhile in another section of the island, a young woman called Silvia picks up her phone, hears a tinny recording of Billie Holiday's "Gloomy Sunday," and promptly leaps out her own window. Unlike Norton's fiancee, Silvia survives her plummet.
We learn that suicides are occurring all over the island, and when David and Silvia finally meet up and team up in the airport, we realize that they are our heroes -- and off they go to discover the truth behind the brainwashings and the lemming-like spate of suicides. (Kelly plays the mysterious -- yet plainly evil -- Franz Kovak, the man who definitely seems to be pulling all the strings. The actor emits a palpable sense of nastiness before he even speaks a word -- and he gets more devilishly amusing the longer he appears onscreen.) To say a whole lot more would spoil much of the fun, but suffice to say that the flick follows a solid premise with a respectable amount of twists, turns and semi-surprises.
The Kovax Box is a straight-faced and reality-based piece of "old-school" science fiction, the kind that's more concerned with concepts like mind control and the power of suggestion than it is flashy chases or explosions. Spanish director Daniel Monzon keeps the plot moving at a respectable clip, which helps keep the slow spots few and far between. The movie delivers an exotic locale that's impressively shot, and it's directed with a sense of style that's never too showy or languid. Plus it's got a rather strong performance from Timothy Hutton and co-star Lucia Jimenez acquits herself respectably well ... even if her English isn't all that hot.
This is a flick that will play a few genre-friendly film festivals before finding a home on your cable box or video shelf -- and while it's far from a flashy or high-octane-style sci-fi thriller, The Kovak Box earns a lot of credit for simply being smart, interesting, well-shot and clever enough to know when to wrap things up. It's also a confident little mixture of sci-fi, drama, chase thriller and horror flick. For a low-budget sci-fi import, that's impressive enough for me.