While exploring the neighboring woods, 13-year-old John discovers an unfinished bunker — a deep hole in the ground. Seemingly without provocation, he drugs his affluent parents and older sister and drags their unconscious bodies into the bunker, where he holds them captive. As they anxiously wait for John to free them from the hole, the boy returns home, where he can finally do what he wants.
If you enjoy reading my Spoiler-Free reviews, please follow my blog @ https://www.msbreviews.com This edition of Sundance has already delivered a few ambiguous, atmospheric films (Human Factors, In The Earth), but none has surprised or impacted me in a positive way so far. John and the Hole comes close to get a good reaction from me, but it also holds another massive bunker filled with way too many open questions. It’s always challenging to review a movie with an underlying, vague story that I don’t fully understand. In all honesty, there’s an entire storyline I’m either just scratching the surface of something greater, or it’s indeed an underwhelming, insignificant part of the screenplay. Since I can’t put my finger on what it’s truly about, I’m going to ignore it for now and come back later in a second viewing. Nevertheless, almost the whole film deals with something (apparently) separated from the subplot above. This is where the movie fails to deliver a more captivating narrative. Nicolás Giacobone’s screenplay is packed with intriguing premises and setups, but its respective developments and outcomes are far from extraordinary or surprising. Throughout the entire runtime, I’m waiting for a major energy burst or an impactful event, but these rarely arrive. The viewer follows Charlie Shotwell’s character as the young kid finds himself responsible for everything in his life, but despite the admittedly suspenseful atmosphere keeping me at the edge of my seat (couch), I still hoped for something more substantial to occur. Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Ehle, and Taissa Farmiga are formidable, transforming a small bunker into the most interesting place in the film due to their fascinating interactions. Seeing their characters trying to stay sane proved to be surprisingly entertaining. However, Shotwell steals the spotlight as expected from such a protagonist-centered narrative. Outstanding performance. Technically, Paul Özgür’s cinematography offers some memorable shots that elevate a few particular sequences, but it’s Caterina Barbieri’s unique score that really generates the tense environment, which kept me curious until the very end. Pascual Sisto’s direction also deserves praise, but until I see his movie a second or even third time, I don’t believe it’s fair for me to criticize a film I don’t wholly understand for leaving so many questions unanswered. Still, I believe there’s a forced attempt at being entirely ambiguous instead of balancing this aspect with more straightforward elements. John and the Hole is yet another ambiguous entry in this year’s edition of Sundance, but this time, it actually comes close to satisfy me. Ignoring a particular storyline that I don’t fully understand yet (second viewing required), Pascual Sisto’s direction and Nicolás Giacobone’s screenplay leave too many pending questions to my taste, but I can’t deny some of them generate quite an interesting debate within myself. Either I’m just scratching the surface of something greater, or the underwhelming, uneventful, basic developments of intriguing situations are nothing more than exactly that. The phenomenal performances from everyone involved (and I genuinely mean everyone), the exquisite camera work, and the addictive score all add to the incredibly suspenseful atmosphere that kept me invested until the very last second. Still, that ending… I don’t know. Rating: B-
“John and the Hole” has a maddening ambiguity that seems a whole lot like lazy storytelling rather than a well thought out narrative. Director Pascual Sisto‘s unsettling story of a 13-year-old who drugs his family and dumps them in an unfinished bunker in the woods is a nightmare tale of young teenage angst, and the film’s imperfections are partially what make it so interesting. John (Charlie Shotwell, in a chilling performance) is a very strange kid. To the casual observer, it looks like the boy has a nice life. Loving parents (Jennifer Ehle, Michael C. Hall), a kindhearted older sister (Taissa Farmiga), and a beautiful home with everything he could possibly want or ever need. John looks and acts depressed, but his concerned family is always wondering and asking him why. Out of the blue one night, John feeds everyone sleeping pills and drags them to a giant hole, leaving them captive for days. He visits a couple of times to bring them food and water, but after enjoying the freedom of living at home alone and being the sole one in charge, he begins to neglect his starving prisoners in favor of playing house. It’s a messed up idea for a movie, but the premise is well-suited for this restrained psychological thriller. John is definitely a disturbed sociopath, and one who is consumed with the desire for more adult responsibilities. He has an ominous obsession with money and control, but it’s unclear what the boy’s ultimate motivation is for kidnapping his family. There are concerning elements that don’t feel quite right, like his dad’s extremely well-funded bank account and John’s delight when play-drowning a friend in the backyard pool, but he mostly seems like a normal but confused teenager who has perfected the cold, blank stare. Screenwriter Nicolás Giacobone includes an unnecessary failure of a subplot about a mother telling her little girl a version of John’s story, and it’s an ineffective distraction that steals from the strength of the themes. Despite that major stumble, “John and the Hole” has some big ideas that are both fascinating and awful, but I still found the film to be a bit more frustrating than thought-provoking.