John And The Hole

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

John And The Hole
"Perhaps everything doesn't quite stack up into a neat narrative but as a film that explores the frosty hinterland between sociopathy and more simple teenage boredom it follows through." | Photo: Paul Özgür

What exactly makes John (Charlie Shotwell, who is fast becoming a name to watch with the likes of this and The Nest) tick, or even what he is thinking remains inscrutable throughout the course of this unsettling psychodrama, not just to us but, you sense, to the young teenager as well. His mum (Jennifer Ehle) calls him "baby", his dad (Michael C Hall) "buddy" and we see, as the film unfolds elliptically, that the youngster feels the weight of expectation from teachers who want to know how he reached a maths conclusion or the tennis coach who urges him to "focus" and "follow through".

John's thought processes - from how he calculates the square root of 225 to why he does what he does through the course of the film - remain opaque to us, in the same way that adulthood holds an enigmatic draw for him, even if adults themselves offer no clear answers about his route there. "When do you stop being a kid?" he asks. Good question.

All of this means that Pascual Sisto's debut film, scripted by Nicolás Giacobone (Birdman, another tale of troubled psychology), is more of a chiller than a thriller, coolly watching on as John does what he does, without offering firm conclusions. In fact, far from leaving a breadcrumb trail of clues as to why John decides to enact a plan involving the hole - an unfinished bunker near his home - Sisto and Giacobone instead leave a series of holes for us to fall into. While this may just be a story within a story - a device more fully employed by the recent Undergods - as a troubling subplot involving a mother (Georgia Lyman) and her daughter Lily (Samantha LeBretton) suggests, that doesn't negate the intensity of the mood Sisto generates.

As John tries on his version of "adulthood" for size, the film's interrelationships and glassy oddness recall the likes of We Need To Talk About Kevin or something Michael Haneke might cook up. This middle class family might not "want" for anything specific but there's also a sense of a hole in terms of emotions - an existence where expensive gifts seem to have replaced more traditional methods of showing you care, although notably this aloofness is something John's sister hasn't yet grown into. Later, all the family except John will be stripped of these trappings, something that leads them to a more childlike connection. Meanwhile, in that tale outside the tale, adulthood is being thrust upon Lily whether she likes it or not.

Cinematographer Paul Özgür mimics the chill of his tale with gliding camerawork contrasting the open plan airiness of the family home with the frame within a frame claustrophobia of the hole John employs, not to mention a shot that cleverly skewers one of those drone shots that have become so ubiquitous lately. Perhaps everything doesn't quite stack up into a neat narrative but as a film that explores the frosty hinterland between sociopathy and more simple teenage boredom it follows through.

Reviewed on: 08 Aug 2021
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John And The Hole packshot
When a teenager finds a hole in the ground, he hatches a chilling plot.

Director: Pascual Sisto

Writer: Nicolás Giacobone

Starring: Charlie Shotwell, Michael C Hall, Jennifer Ehle, Taissa Farmiga

Year: 2021

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US


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