Movie Review: “John and the Hole”

Is there a reason for it? Even if we don’t know why someone in a movie acts in a specific manner, or takes a specific action, does the character have a reason for taking the action? If the answer is “no,” the movie teeters on the brink of disaster. If the answer is “yes,” well, it still might teeter but the cause would be a different one.

Consequently, when John (Charlie Shotwell), drugs his family and drops them into an unfinished bunker without means of escape in “John and the Hole,” we have to wonder – is there a reason for it? Is John’s motivation greater than, “well, there’s no movie if I don’t?”

Director Pascual Sisto and writer Nicolás Giacobone keep us guessing for an inordinately long period of time in this, Sisto’s directorial debut. We see John, prior to abducting his father (Michael C. Hall), mother (Jennifer Ehle), and sister (Taissa Farmiga), wander through his world in semi-detached fashion. There is something going on behind his eyes, but we don’t know what. We have been dropped into his story and can only guess why he might space out in school or drug the gardener.

“John and the Hole” is a largely quiet, reflective, sort of a film and in this way our introduction to John himself is pitch perfect. The family lives in an upscale suburban (bordering on rural) neighborhood. It is secluded and even if there’s some land nearby that someone was once building a bunker underneath, John—and everyone else—knows that once his family is in the hole he is their only way out.

Without spoiling the movie, it seems clear that John does indeed have his reasons. There is one offered within the film, something about the difference between being a child and an adult, but that only starts to get at the matter.

And now is when I have to worry about spoilers. I have to wonder how much to offer up my own hypothesis on the film versus allowing people to go in cold and draw their own conclusions based upon what they observe. If I speak of one particular portion of the film, the one where I think answers become more clear, will I have given away some of the secrets of “John and the Hole” or merely provide what I am using as a key by which to unlock the story?

Of course, the very fact that such is a thing is necessary speaks well of the movie. Sisto offers up a lot for the audience to chew on, with Shotwell delivering a performance that is scary and troubling and sad. As John interacts with (or avoids) both his family and members of the outside world, we get an ever more clear picture of who he is and his attempts to navigate a route through adolescence.

An academic sort of analysis of the film would argue that the physical hole present in the story, the bunker, is in fact a metaphor for the hole in John’s soul or being or conscience. John attempts to fill the physical hole with his family in an effort to truly bring them into his life, to stop them from being distracted or disappearing during meals; to stop them from blowing him off; to have their life help fill his. I will not take the analysis further, I will not enter the aforementioned spoiler-y territory, but the analysis works to this point. It offers up some insight even if it makes the entire thing feel a little silly.

This last is upsetting because if there is one thing the movie tries to eschew, it’s silliness. If one chooses to engage with “John and the Hole,” it is dark and upsetting and not very silly at all. It is, at times, rather too lethargic in its pacing, but it is not silly. It is a tale which prompts conversation and inquiry.

Walking away from “John and the Hole,” which is available on today, I can’t help but worry – is John the way he is, does he do what he does, because of how he was raised? Did his parents, somehow, turn him into some sort of psychopath (or sociopath)? If that is the case, they seem to have done so unintentionally (at least as far as the movie makes clear). Could all parents make whatever mistakes these parents did? Are we all one gift of a high-end drone away from being tortured by the recipient?

If that’s not a scary thought, I don’t know what is.

photo credit: IFC Films

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