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John and the Hole (2021)

2021 LIGHTHOUSE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW:


John (Charlie Shotwell) is an odd thirteen-year-old boy who has aspirations of being a successful young tennis player. Like just about every other young teenager, John struggles to always see eye to eye with his family, finds typical social conventions difficult, and enjoys eating junk food. Also, not unlike other children his age, John dreams of being an adult and possessing the ability to make his own decisions. John and the Hole is a unique bildungsroman that sees John hold his family captive in a hole not far behind their house. With freedom now firmly in his grasp John must contemplate the reality of what he’s done and whether or not he’s prepared to be an adult.


Have you ever watched a film, gotten through the entire thing, and realized that you loved it, but have no idea why? That’s where I was at the conclusion of John and the Hole last night. As I sat in the emptying theatre I mulled over the details of this twisted story and attempted to decipher what exactly it was that made this film so enjoyable. I’ll tell you what, never have I been so confused by a film as I was after watching John and the Hole, and writer Nicolás Giacobone and director Pascual Sisto just may be geniuses for it.


The film opens to the audio of John essentially being berated by his teacher as he struggles to determine the square root of 225. Quickly it transitions to John and his family at home, eating dinner almost completely in silence. These first few scenes set the tone of who and what John is, and to be honest, the most accurate way to describe him is “odd.” John and the Hole then transitions outside for the first time with an aerial shot from the point of view of John’s drone. As the drone spirals out of control, very literally dizzying viewers, Sisto lets the reality of what’s to come sink in, and like that nauseating shot, the remainder of the film has the potential to make you sick.


Sisto does a fabulous job of setting up John and all that makes him who he is. Audiences understand the taboo nature of John’s existence and can see it mirrored in nearly every shot throughout John and the Hole. The entirety of the film is spent attempting to creep out viewers with eerie visuals and awkward silence, and Sisto is successful in this regard. Not a moment passes that viewers don’t feel some semblance of unease or uncomfortability, and this fact manages to reel viewers in further and further with each passing second. Something about John and the Hole manages to project itself onto viewers and grant them a sense of unease in their own skin. As the film plays out and the uniquely dark acts continue viewers often feel the need to laugh. Whether that laughter comes from some sense of uncomfortability or from the subtle humor injected into the intensity of John and his family can differ from person to person. However, the reality is that the audience knows that while they want to laugh, they may look a little crazy doing so. The ability of Sisto, Shotwell, Michael C. Hall (Brad), Jennifer Ehle (Anna), and Taissa Farmiga (Laurie) to convey that level of insanity and unease comes as a result of pure talent.


To further the level of intensity dialogue plays a limited but important role in John and the Hole. While the film possesses far less dialogue than one might typically find in a narrative feature, the spaced-out absence of that dialogue adds to the darkness, unease, and dizziness that exists throughout John and the Hole.


Again, I struggled to understand at first why I loved this film. Sisto’s decision to leave the film open-ended made it even more difficult to understand my own feelings. As I examined my thoughts and the film simultaneously I struggled even to understand what the hell had just occurred in the closing moments. That ambiguity leaves things wide open and up to the viewer to make sense of. John and the Hole is the first film to leave me fully speechless for some time, even when I knew it was something that resonated with me. There is something beautifully dark that lives within the minds of everyone involved in this project, but their expertise and ability simply baffle viewers and helped to create a film so spectacular, confusing, and attractive.


Directed by Pascual Sisto.


Written by Nicolás Giacobone.


Starring Charlie Shotwell, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Ehle, Taissa Farmiga, Lucien Spelman, Georgia Lyman, Samantha LeBretton, Tamara Hickey, Ben O’Brien, etc.


⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐½/10


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