The Box (film)

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The Box
Theatrical release poster for the 83rd Montecara Film Festival.
Directed byMannix Schutman
Written byJacoliene Cornello
Tom Rakitić
Arend van Keulen
Produced byMannes Jans Elken
Anouk Feys
StarringWil Lamberts
Steff Cissoko
Jeremy Dewaele
Matthijs ten Hoope
Nico Hoogland
Yannick Dermout
Trijntje Flederis
CinematographyKo Ross
Edited byZelphida Gaulin
Sieb ter Steege
Paul Vandevelde
Music byQuinten Poffers
Distributed byDoorbreak Distributions
Release dates
  • 24 October 2022 (2022-10-24)
(Montecara Film Festival)
Running time
121 minutes

The Box (Hennish: De Doos) is a 2022 Hennish dystopian survival thriller film directed by Mannix Schutman, starring Wil Lamberts, Steff Cissoko, Jeremy Dewaele, Matthijs ten Hoope, Nico Hoogland, Yannick Dermout and Trijntje Flederis. The film follows the journey of Thijs, a newly-redundant man suffering from mental health issues, who becomes an unwitting participant of an exploitative and murderous reality show, the true nature of which is shielded from the public through the use of experimental artificial intelligence and deep fake technology.

Produced by Studio Leplex and Tiger Productions, the film will make its debut at the 83rd Montecara Film Festival on 24 October 2022, with a domestic Hennish and international release set for early 2023.


Set in a not-too-distant future in which the development of technology and artificial intelligence has continued to gather pace, the Hennish government is now run by a trio of big tech magnates who promote libertarian and consumerist values. The new administration is extremely corrupt, and has begun to employ the use of deep fakes in order to cover up unpopular policy decisions and to falsify statements made by opposiiton figures, upon whom it has launched a crackdown. Among the executive trio is Waldo Desreumaux (Jeremy Dewaele), a young, charismatic entrepreneur and the owner of the K6 media network.

Thijs Bastein (Wil Lamberts), who has recently been made redundant from his civil service job as part of widespread government budget cuts, attends a therapy session with a psychologist in order to cope with his depression and insomnia, which have exacerbated due to recent global and personal events. Exiting the clinic, he sees a holographic billboard inviting members of the public to apply for a new reality show on Desreumaux's K6 platform entitled The Box. Participants are promised an "escape from the stress of reality", temporary absolution from bills and rent, and a multi-million euclo cash prize for the winner.

Though Thijs is initially sceptical, an array of personally targeted ads for the application process plague his viewing habits, particularly after dark when he is most proactive due to his lack of sleep. He forwards his application for the show and is later invited to attend the formal auditions process, which involves group icebreakers and background checks. There he makes an instant connection with Rima (Steff Cissoko), a fellow applicant who has also been enticed by the potential perks of participating. In the final part of the application process, Thijs is put through a psychological screening test in which he is asked deeply personal and provocative questions. The process aggravates him, causing him to lash out at the on-site medical personnel and production crew about the wider state of affairs and the exploitative nature of the programme. Soon after, Thijs is informed that he has been selected as a contestant for the game show, and is told to prepare himself for the journey.

Late one night, as an endless stream of adverts hosted by influencers runs on his television set, Thijs' apartment is broken into by masked men who pin him down and knock him unconscious. When Thijs wakes up, he finds himself in a studio dressing room as makeup artists work to make him "look good for the camera", and is subsequently whisked out in front of a large crowd of spectators on what is revealed to be the first episode of The Box. He is then escorted into the setting for the show: a warehouse-sized square container from which the show's name is derived, with LED projectors and holographic images overlayed across all walls and flooring, and basic living facilities located in each corner of the box. Dozens of cameras and microphones are also embedded into the space, all of which are broadcast live to the nation around the clock. Thijs finds himself as one of twelve contestants, who like him are all dressed in the same plain clothing, and is elated to find that Rima has also made the lineup.

In each round of the gameshow, contestants must partake in challenges to avoid being 'eliminated' from The Box. These challenges are designed to be humiliating and denigrating, and also to cause tension amongst the participants. From the inside, the first few elimination rounds appear to progress without a hitch, as eliminated contestants leave via the door through which they entered. However, attitudes among the remaining contestants change when they are assigned a challenge in which they are required to play a game of Soravian roulette with a pistol. Though most of the cast assume the gun to be holding a fake cartridge and participate without incident, a contestant named Art (Yannick Dermout) pulls the trigger on the loaded chamber, dying instantly.

Dismayed and distraught, the remaining cohort of contestants demand to be freed, to which producers respond by projecting onto the walls a purported 'post-exit' interview with Art, who talks in bouyed spirits about his time in The Box and his elimination, footage of which has been doctored to show Art walking away unscathed. This stuns the cast, who begin to spiral into paranoia about what is really happening. Whilst one contestant believes that Art was a paid actor, Thijs hypothesises that the interview was an AI-generated deep fake. The contestants become dejected and increasingly destabilised as Rima and Thijs continue to confide in each other, leading to them having sex for the first time. As a consequence of the show's broadcast, this action is streamed online to a record-breaking audience. The open plan design of the structure also means that the intimacy is witnessed by the other contestants, including a man named Ewout (Matthijs ten Hoope), who has developed feelings of his own for Rima.

Following Art's 'elimination', all subsequent challenges involve the direct murder of at least one contestant, with survivors subsequently being shown footage of the eliminated contestants alive and partaking in interviews and advertising spots. The final six are paired off into weaponless duels atop a heightened platform within The Box. Thijs survives his duel by virtue of the suicide of his opponent, Markus. Rima is paired with Ewout, who pulls the former into a headlock and demands that she renounce her interest in Thijs. Rima refuses and attempts to shrug Ewout off her, however she slips in the process and falls backwards off the platform with Ewout still attached, sending both to their deaths.

A heartbroken and furious Thijs finds himself as one of the final two contestants alongside a man named Benoit (Nico Hoogland). Both men are shown a clip of the broadcast version of the show, which portrays a manipulated version of the duel scene in which Rima and Markus fall from the platform into a pool, rather than to their deaths. This is followed by a purported interview with Rima, who declares her love for Thijs. The screening sends Thijs into a bitter rage, akin to his outburst at the auditions process, with ratings for the show shooting up in response. Believing that all contestants have left the show alive and that Thijs is overreacting for the cameras, viewers appear to mock Thijs' outburst in the comments section of the live broadcast, with some even making memes from Thijs' expressions.

Thijs and Benoit are awoken from their sleep to sounds of euclo coins being dropped into The Box, with an announcement over the intercom declaring the beginning of the "Million Euclo Melee". Within the circle of pooled euclos, a sword has been placed on a singular table. The men are told that in order to leave The Box and take home the cash prize, they must simply stab the other to death. Initially refusing the order, Thijs and Benoit sit down opposite each other amidst the cash and discuss their lives and their experience within the The Box, agreeing that neither saw a future for themselves in the outside world, and that the fairest way to end proceedings was an honest fight. Agreeing that whoever grabs the sword first wins, they count themselves in and lunge toward the centre. Benoit grabs the sword first, offering a final handshake to Thijs, to which the latter responds by seizing the sword and stabbing Benoit to death.

After the battle, Desreumaux and the show's producer, Elke Peters (Trijntje Flederis), enter The Box to formally congratulate Thijs on his victory, followed by a row of glamour models holding an oversized cheque for one million euclo. When confronted by Thijs, Desreumaux confirms that all other contestants were 'permanently eliminated' and that the interviews and doctored elimination footage shown to him had indeed been deep fakes generated by AI as part of a government-backed experiment into their effectiveness. An offer to join the technocratic administration provokes Thijs to kill Desreumaux with the sword, before he himself blacks out.

The final scene portrays a reel of television footage including images of the state funeral for Desreumaux; preparations for Thijs to stand as the defendant in the "Murder Trial of the Century"; and an advert for a new game show hosted by the purported winner of The Box, Benoit. In the closing seconds of the film, the reel refers to allegations of government corruption as a 'secondary' news story.



Themes and conception

Among the themes explored in The Box include exploitation, corporatism, voyeurism, mental health, and the connection between growing digitalisation and authoritarianism. According to director Mannix Schutman, the film is a broader commentary on media consumption, the drawbacks on technological advancement, and the exploitation of the most vulnerable in society for the financial or emotional gain of the few or the many.

The use of artificial intelligence as a tool of deception and control is a recurring theme in The Box. Schutman stated at a press conference in Montecara that an inspiration for the film's plot was a deep fake video of President of the Euclean Community Alastrí Nic Ualtair ⁊ Ní Deoradh he saw on Chirpr. "For a full minute, you believe what you've seen and what you've heard, and think, 'Surely, that's not something she'd say?', and then you have to doubt it and yourself. It becomes a real mindcrack, and this is only going to get more aggressive as time goes on. That fucking scares me," he said. The deception of both participants and the general public as depicted in the film through the use of deep fake technology underlines the gaslighting that takes place by those in power to subdue those under their control, and highlights the blurred line between reality and fiction that plagues this near-distant, dystopian setting.

The depiction of a voyeuristic, exploitative reality show can also be perceived to be a commentary on contemporary Hennish culture. The genre of television largely originated in Hennehouwe during the late 1990's and early 2000's, with a number of formats such as Survival Island, The Watchhouse and The Imposter gaining popularity and being exported to other countries. Such shows remain popular in Hennehouwe today, and have often faced criticism for poor treatment of participants in the name of producing popular entertainment. Following the suicide of three separate Hennish reality show contestants in 2016 and 2017, a Senate committee inquiry concluded that television production companies had not done enough to protect contestants during and after their participation, and mandated new safeguards and aftercare procedures in future productions. In an interview, Schutman denied that the suicide scene in the film was a reference to the scandal. Others have criticised such programmes for their negative contribution to the news cycle, with stories relating to the programmes and their participants often generating major headlines in the Hennish press ahead of matters of importance to politics or to current affairs, with The Box's conclusion making clear reference to this.

Filming and post-production