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What’s In The Box?

Guest blogger Jon Crocker

Special delivery! Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly’s new mystery thriller The Box is about, well, a mysterious box. What’s in the box? A red button. You push it: someone dies, you get a million dollars. Great idea. But boxes – and their secret contents – have been a long, lovely tradition over a century of movies. Often, they’re what Hitchcock called a “McGuffin”, just a meaningless ‘whatsit’ that drives the story forwards. But sometimes, their dark secrets hold the key to the entire film. So let’s round up cinema’s greatest What’s In The Box? movies. Warning: here be (some) spoilers…


1. Se7en

“What’s in the box??” howls Brad Pitt’s anguished detective. “What’s in the baaaaaahhhx???” Perhap the ultimate WITB? movie and an absolutely killer ending to David Fincher’s magnificent seven-sins thriller. As Morgan Freeman looks on helplessly, Kevin Spacey’s psychotic mastermind stares down Pitt’s gun barrel and delivers the horrific finishing move to his deadly game. Just before Pitt cracks, look out for the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flash-cut to the contents of the brown cardboard box that’s just been delivered. Envy + wrath = harshness.

2. Raiders Of The Lost Ark

“Keep your eyes shut!!” As Indy and Marion squeeze their peepers, those foolish Nazis prise open the Ark of the Covenant – famed to grant unlimited power to the army who wields it –and all hell breaks loose. Literally. A beautiful white she-ghost wisps into the air… before immediately turning into a demon. Laser beams blast holes through the German soldiers. Nazi sadist Toht screams like a little girl. Then a plume of flame melts his face clean off. Then his head explodes. Lesson learned, yes?

3. Kiss Me Deadly

Greatest hardcore noir ever made and the daddy of classic WITB? movies. Attempting to discover who murdered a beautiful hitchhiker, private dick Mike Hammer unwittingly stumbles on a strange box containing what’s basically an atomic-bomb metaphor. At the terrifying climax, dumb brawd Gaby Rodgers finally lifts the lid and promptly erupts in flames. As a screaming, strobing apocalyptic force roars out of the box, the entire house explodes and sends Hammer and his other (non-flambeed) gal fleeing into the sea. The End. Ouch…

4. Pulp Fiction

Urban movie-myths don’t come much bigger than this baby. The hypnotic, glowing contents of the briefcase that slick-suited hitmen Jules and Vince are sent to retrieve in Tarantino’s movie are often said to be the soul of their boss Marcellus Wallace. Why? The combination code to the briefcase is 666 and the scar on Marcellus’ neck is where his soul was scooped out. Wrong, says QT: “It’s whatever the viewer wants it to be…” In reality? An orange light-bulb, actually.

5. Night Must Fall

One of the Coen brothers’ favourite movies. In fact, it’s Ethan Coen’s favourite movie of all time. No, we hadn’t heard of it either. “It’s got Albert Finney in it,” explains Coen. “A good movie. Best ever. He keeps an old lady’s head in a hat box.” Well, that’s basically the gist. This Brit ‘60s thriller sees Finney as a working-class psychopath who plays ‘funny games’ with a wealthy widow while sleeping with her daughter and maid. Naughty boy.

6. Barton Fink

Yes, it’s the Coens again. Shock-haired John Turturro is the ‘40s Jewish playwright suffering from mad-crazy writer’s block in a seedy hotel room. Someone leaves a cardboard box in his room. What’s in it? We’re not sure. But the flies seem to like it. And, this being a Coen movie, Turturro never plucks up the guts to open it. Smart move, we’re saying. Ever noticed how many times people in the movie talk about heads? Chances are, it’s not an early Christmas pressie.

7. Hellraiser

Sort of like a Rubrik’s Cube. Only not. This ornate puzzle box is actually the ‘Lament Configuration’ – a dimensional doorway to hell itself. Say hello to the Cenobites, a trio of S&M demons who sling a bunch of hooked chains into you that tear your flesh to ribbons. “You solved the box, we came,” drawls lead nasty Pinhead. “Now you must come with us, taste our pleasures.” Did we mention that the greatest pain is their greatest pleasure? Oh dear…

8. Mulholland Drive

David Lynch’s movie is like one big puzzle box. Things get seriously weird when Betty (Naomi Watts) discovers a strange blue box that matches a strange blue key owned by her friend Rita (Laura Haring). Rita turns her back for a second. And Betty has vanished. So Rita unlocks the box… opens it and… the room is empty. What’s in the box? The rest of Lynch’s mind-melting movie. Both Betty and Rita reappear as completely different characters. Go figure.


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