Over the wearying months of the pandemic, the former pleasure of the doorbell ringing to herald a delivery has become increasingly routine, as large numbers of us have embraced the ‘new normal’ of ordering virtually everything online.
If there’s anything that can restore a sense of surprise to the humble parcel it will be Christmas gift giving. Failing that, here are the best surprise deliveries on film – when an unexpected package signals adventure, mystery or something more ominous.
The Shape of Water (2017) – Amazon Rent/Buy
Guillermo del Toro’s lyrical inter-species romance won multiple Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Production Design, and Best Original Score
Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) stars as Elisa Esposito, a mute cleaner at a secret US government laboratory who falls for an Amphibian creature that is captured by the military and dispatched to the facility for study/exploitation.
An odd, but touching tale, with a great performance from Hawkins and other players including Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones as ‘the Amphibian Man’ and Michael Stuhlbarg.
Nocturnal Animals (2016) – Amazon Rent/Buy
Tom Ford’s stylish follow-up to A Single Man (2009) is a neo-noir piece that revolves around art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) reading the disturbing rushes of her ex-husband Edward Sheffield’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) first novel which he has mailed to her.
The action takes place in both ‘real life’ and in the events of the book, where Gyllenhaal plays the protagonist in the grim crime thriller and Adams lookalike Isla Fisher his raped and murdered wife.
Possibly best for her if Morrow had slung the novel in the bin when she received it, but such is life.
Delivery Man (2013) – Amazon Prime
A change of pace with Ken Scott’s English language remake of his own French-Canadian comedy-drama Starbuck (2011).
Vince Vaughn is David Wozniak – alias ‘Starbuck’, a frequent contributor to a sperm bank as a student who finds out that he has no less than 533 children, of which 142 are pursuing a class action to sue the clinic and reveal the donor’s identity. And you thought Boris Johnson had problems in that area.
Not a great movie, but an easy enough watch, with sterling support from Chris Pratt and fellow Marvel alum Cobie Smulders.
Vaughn played another kind of delivery man in 2007’s Fred Claus (Amazon Rent/Buy), where he starred as Santa’s bitter older brother of the film’s title, who, by the end of the picture comes good and delivers presents to all the children of the world. Even those on the naughty list.
The Box (2009) – Amazon Rent/Buy
The time: Christmas 1976; the place -the suburbs of Boston. The delivery of a mysterious box with a large red button to a cash strapped couple (played by Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) presents a moral dilemma when the creepy Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) arrives.
Steward explains that if the button is pushed, they will receive $1m in cash, but that someone who is a stranger to them will die.
To be honest, one look at Langella’s character and I would be giving the Box back with a cursory ‘thanks, but no thanks’ whilst swiftly shutting the front door (and bolting it) – but that would make for an exceedingly short picture.
Richard Kelly’s (Donnie Darko) intense chiller is loosely based on the short story ‘Button, Button’ by Richard Matheson (Stir of Echoes), previously adapted into an episode of the 1980s Twilight Zone revival.
Secret Window (2004) – Amazon Rent/Buy
After Nocturnal Animals, another movie that concerns the receipt of a story manuscript, this time with echoes of two Polanski films about fractured identity, Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976).
Mystery writer ‘Mort’ Rainey (Johnny Depp) is accused of plagiarism by Bayou hick John Shooter (John Turturro) who arrives at the novelist’s upstate New York cabin with his tale ‘Sowing Season’, which bears an distinct resemblance to Depp’s own ‘Secret Window’.
Adapted from the Stephen King novella Secret Window, Secret Garden, David Koepp’s (who also directed Richard Matheson’s Stir of Echoes) movie fails to generate many scares but is a satisfying late night time-passer.
Road Trip (2000) – Amazon Buy Only
This unremarkable American Pie-style ‘teen’ (although not judging by the cast’s ages) comedy stars Brecklin Mayer as a student who embarks on said 1800-mile road trip In the hopes of nabbing a sex tape of himself and another lass (Amy Smart) mistakenly sent to his long distance girlfriend before it’s delivered.
The laughs are few and far between, with alleged comedian Tom Green – as college tour guide ‘Barry Manilow’, always managing to stink up any scene he appears in. For proper sorority laffs stick with Animal House (1978) or Old School (2003).
The Postman (1997) – Amazon Rent/Buy
Kevin Costner directs and stars as a dystopian kind of Postman Pat in this overlong but fitfully entertaining sci-fi would-be epic, a close cousin to his own Waterworld (1995).
In a post-apocalyptic US of A (circa 2013), Costner (known only as ‘The Postman’) raises hope in isolated communities with tales of a central government gradually re-establishing itself against evil warlord (and former photocopier salesman) General Bethlehem, a scenery-chewing Will Patton.
Since at first Costner is basically bilking people for food and lodging, he’s something of a low life, but he of course finds his heroic core as the picture progresses.
Seven/SE7EN (1995) – Amazon Rent/Buy
After all the fun tableaux of mutilation, razor-blade strap-ons, forced feeding, flesh-cutting, coerced starvation etc who can forget the total downer that is the final scene in David Fincher’s Seven Deadly Sins serial killer flick?
Brad Pitts anguished detective David Mills is confronted by twisted killer John Doe’s (Kevin Spacey) final ghastly surprise as a van approaches their deserted location with a special delivery in a box. A quarter of a century after its release, Seven still retains the power to shock.
Il Postino (1994) – Amazon Prime
Il Postino was a labour of love for actor/writer Massimo Troisi, who, with British director Michael Radford brought this tale to the screen of a humble postie learning the seductive power of words from exiled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Phillippe Noiret).
For me the charm is slightly lessened by the production’s decision to have the Chilean left wing agitator exiled to an island in the gulf of Naples rather than the actual location in his native country and Neruda’s admission in his memoirs of raping a maid in Ceylon in 1929.
Sadly, Troisi passed away from a heart condition one day after principal photography was completed.