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Alumni Profiles
reed magazine logoSpring 2009

An Epistemological Thriller

What happens when three hapless young entrepreneurs stumble across a random webcam focused on a psychopath gearing up for what appears to be a murderous rampage? Should they alert the authorities? Shrug? Sit back and pass the popcorn?

Havoc

Havoc, the existentially ambiguous villain of Four Boxes, gears up for serious mayhem. Photo by Brian Lundy.

This is the dilemma confronting the characters in Four Boxes, a dark comedy of terrors written and directed by independent filmmaker Wyatt McDill ’94 and his wife, Megan Huber.

The main characters in Four Boxes run a ghoulish sort of estate sale business, combing through obituaries in search of old junk to resell online. They wind up in the suburban home of a dead loner. There they discover a computer connected to a website called fourboxes.tv which displays a surveillance camera trained on the apartment of a bizarre individual named Havoc, who sleeps in a bat-cage and appears to be building a deadly bomb. Havoc is obviously deranged—but is he dangerous? More to the point, is he even real?

Inspired by the classic Hitchcock thriller Rear Window, the film, which stars Justin Kirk, held its world premiere at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, in March. As the action unfolds, Four Boxes explores some of the pivotal issues of the digital age, including the authority of online information, the blurring of news and entertainment, and the murky question of just how you know what is real on the internet, and what is not.

Kirk and McDill

Boyhood friends Justin Kirk and Wyatt McDill ’94 between takes.
Photo by James Murray

“I didn’t set out intending to answer an epistemological question,” Wyatt says. “But it does make a good thriller.”

The paradoxical power of the Internet to bring people together but also to keep them isolated is one of the film’s central themes. “People spend more time than ever watching computers, and the resulting segmentation of the culture makes us more isolated, paranoid and fearful, more susceptible to messages about security, and threat, than ever before,” Wyatt writes in his director’s statement.

“In this story ‘terrorism’ is equal to, and the inverse of, ennui—fear of terror is a luxury affordable only to those free from other, more real worries, like disease, war, poverty, political turmoil, famine. Reality itself is bent on the web: it has no recognizable authority, no known time, no discernible place: we watch things on the web that we wouldn’t watch anywhere else, either because they’re too base, too private, or most often, too poor a use of our time.”

After graduating from Reed, Wyatt moved to Minnesota and began working on various independent film projects. He and Megan were able to produce Four Boxes for less than $100,000—in part because the action was shot in very few locations.

Asked about the film’s message, Wyatt cannot help chuckling. “Message. . . Ha! I’ve got to get used to talking like this. It’s not really a ‘message’ kind of film, really. I like to throw out ideas and let people form their own opinions. I do think that terrorism has been used as a boogeyman to advance a political agenda, and this film takes that idea a step further. The bad guys are faceless, and you can’t really be sure they exist or not.”

For more information about Four Boxes, see www.fourboxesthemovie.com.

—Chris Lydgate

reed magazine logoSpring 2009