New to rent in the UK is the psychological thriller, John and the Hole. The movie – directed by Pascual Sisto and based on the novel, El Pozo, by Nicolás Giacobone – stars Charlie Shotwell, Jennifer Ehle, Taissa Farmiga, and Michael C. Hall, and follows the story of a teenage boy who keeps his family captive in an underground bunker.
In the movie, John is a 13-year-old school boy with few friends. He lives with his mother, father, and sister in a beautiful house in the countryside, spends his days staring into space, and asks many unusual questions.
One day, while out flying a drone, John comes across the entrance to a bunker near to his home. Later that day he asks his parents about the bunker, and they inform him it is unfinished, unused and abandoned.
The next evening, John drugs his family. He then takes their unconscious bodies into the woods, and places each person into the bunker.
When John’s family wake up the next morning, they are horrified to discover they have been kidnapped and are even more horrified to discover John is involved. But while John’s family get accustomed to their new situation, John continues with his life above ground, as if nothing has happened.
John and the Hole is an intriguing, captivating tale, about a boy who views the world differently to others. It is a story about someone who lives with a mental condition and focuses on the way he and his family react to the choices he makes.
For the most part, the narrative follows John as he attempts to be an adult in the absence of his family. It delves deep into his mental state, details the journey he takes, and explores his limited emotional range, his lack of awareness, and his complete misunderstanding of what is acceptable.
Running alongside John’s story is the plight of his family, who spend the majority of the film trapped below ground. Their story is one of resilience and of keeping calm under pressure, and their reaction to being kidnapped goes a long way to explain their relationship with John and his mental health.
This is a family who are aware that John is different, but who have come to accept it as a normal way of life. They have never viewed his behaviour as worrying, and even when their lives are placed in danger, they remain convinced that everything will work out in the end.
Despite the premise, this isn’t a story in which John is depicted as a crazed psychopath, but rather a story in which we see a child make a very bad decision. The film then expands upon this bad decision, as John spends time trying to understand a world he simply doesn’t get.
In terms of the story, a great deal of the movie’s narrative weight is placed firmly on the shoulders of Charlie Shotwell, who takes on the role of John. The young actor plays this lead role incredibly well, often bringing so much to the screen through looks and glances, rather than through dialogue.
At times it’s never quite clear if John is going to descend into utter darkness, or if he will remain just on the borderline. This balanced performance from Shotwell adds a great deal to the movie and is the stand-out performance of the picture.
To aid Shotwell’s performance, director Pascual Sisto frames many of his shots in such a way that they feel cold, distant, and calculated. Every frame has been carefully considered, with many shots used to highlight the loneliness and awkwardness of John’s situation.
And then there is the music, which conveys so much of the mood and mental state of John. The haunting score by Caterina Barbieri adds a great deal of emotional depth to the movie and cannot be overlooked.
So, all of the above is great and deserves a high level of praise, but the question remains: Does the film work?
Well for me it does, but I am not sure it will work for everyone. I believe the premise, and the tone will lead some audiences to believe they are watching a low-level horror movie or a twisted picture about a disturbed, murderous child, and that’s not what this is about at all.
If you approach this film thinking you are about to watch something akin to The Good Son (1993), The Bad Seed (1956), or We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), then you will come away rather disappointed. However, if you understand this is largely a movie about mental health and about being taken on a journey which doesn’t necessarily require dark outcomes, then you will get more out of it.
Personally, I liked John and the Hole and found it to be fascinating and somewhat informative. It gave me much to think about, and I believe the combination of the performances, the photography, and the music convey the story well.
But this film will possibly leave some audiences cold, so it should be approached with caution. The film does give the impression it is much darker than it ultimately is, and I except some will finish the movie feeling unfulfilled.
If you are after quick thrills, or something creepy, John and the Hole won’t be for you. But if you are after a dramatic piece with a bit of depth, then take a look.
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