Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Sundance 2021 Review: JOHN AND THE HOLE (2021)

Throughout the Sundance Film Festival, I have seen some wonderfully beautiful films, some terrible films, some that make you ponder the universe, and some that make you ponder yourself. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve been terrified, and even confused. John and the Hole is one of those films that confused me at first, but then made me think about the world and the people in it. How you just never really know what a person or persons may be dealing with in their own lives, and how the world is full of terrible things, and yet it just keeps on spinning. I’m not sure if the filmmakers meant for these kinds of thoughts to spring up in their audience’s minds, but they did for me.

John and the Hole tells the story of John, a 13-year-old kid who, while playing outside, comes across a deep hole in the ground left from an unfinished bunker. He proceeds to drug his family and keep them captive in the hole. Now, with his family out of the way, John is free to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, but is this what he really wants?

This is an intense, claustrophobic ride through the mind of a kid with some serious issues, one that makes you stop and think about all the warning signs you overlook on a regular basis. And that claustrophobia is made even greater by the brilliant use of a tight 4:3 aspect ratio, making you feel like you’re also trapped in a hole while watching it. The other fantastic part of this ratio use is that even though John is the one outside of the hole, it always feels like he’s trapped too. Trapped in his home, in his lies, and even his own mind.

In his debut feature film, director Pascual Sisto does great at showcasing teen angst while underpinning it with what seems obvious is some sort of mental illness. What exactly that is, though, we don’t know. This is amplified by the incredible sound design and the ambiguous sense of time throughout the entire film. John and the Hole was adapted by screenwriter Nicolas Giacobone from his own short story. Giacobone found a remarkable way to take the idea of an adolescent’s desire for adulthood and independence and twist it and flip it on its head in such an eerie and scarily realistic manner.

The titular character of John was played superbly by Charlie Shotwell, who you may recognize from some recent films, such as Captain Fantastic and Troop Zero. He gives a brilliant performance as a kid with, what seems like, no remorse for his actions, and an astute ability to lie in the moment. And then there’s his family, consisting of his parents (Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Ehle) and his sister (Taissa Farmiga), all of whom spend most of the film trapped together in a very small, very deep hole. I love seeing Taissa in movies, and it’s one of the things that drew me to this one, specifically. All three of them took what could have been a very difficult set of roles to play, and knocked it out of the park. Their disbelief, anger, desperation, and acceptance were all beautifully put on display here. They were essentially going through the stages of grief, and I loved seeing it portrayed in such a way, because in reality, they are, in a way, grieving the loss of the son/brother they once knew.

There is one part that I’m still trying to fully understand about this film, however. Within the story is a B-plot about a little girl and her mother. At first it comes completely out of nowhere and makes you question everything you’re seeing, then it takes a hard turn that’s so jarring, it almost took me out of the film. As I’ve sat with it for a few days before writing this review, I do feel like I have a better sense of what they were going for with it, but I feel like the average audience isn’t going to spend nearly as much time thinking on it as I have, and may just leave confused and unsatisfied.

This is one of those films that’s hard to talk about without giving away big spoilers, but I do think people should check it out. It’s intense and thought provoking, and that’s something I wish more films had going for them nowadays.


The Merc’s Score: 8/10




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