Sundance 2021: ‘John and the Hole’ Doesn’t Fulfill Its Interesting Meticulousness

John (Charlie Shotwell) is not like any other teen boys. Not in the sense where there’s a malevolent force ordering his step like The Omen’s Damian. Director Pascual Sisto presents John and the Hole with content that seems harmless. He has a nice family, made up of his mom and dad, John and Anna (Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Ehle), and sister Laurie (Taissa Farmiga). They all seem to have good, tangible relationships from the outside looking in. However, we all know that appearances aren’t always what they seem.

John and the Hole places the focus on John’s glassy stare. It feels coarse and empty every time you see it. He becomes disillusioned with things around him and is extra inquisitive when talking to people. Often answering a question with another question. One day while playing with a drone, he discovers an unfinished bunker deep in the backyard. Somewhere, he gets the idea to drug his family and places them inside it. Thus, becoming the king of his own subdued castle.

One would think that it would be a pre-teen dream to be parentless. To have total autonomy over your day. The story written by Nicolás Giacobone prefers to build its psychological aspects through scene length. We witness the entire process to where John places his family in the abandoned bunker. Small moments where John is in the house by himself playing piano in the dark occur. Anytime that John interacts with his family, it’s with a cold, dark stare. Even him listening to classical music while illegally driving has a creepy element to it. It leaves you wondering if this act is because John wants some type of temporary liberation, or is there something more sinister at play?

Sisto plays with the ambiguity, at first to the movie’s strength, and then to its detriment. A visual story is told displaying the vastness of nature and the environments that both John and his family are in. The longer each goes without one other, the dirtier the surrounding environment becomes. Within the main crux of the movie is a sub-narrative involving a mother and daughter that may have people think this is a legend. Maybe it was an abstract way to show the parental/child relationship is a timing time bomb ripe for abandonment.

As time goes on, situations become disturbingly serene. John’s friend, Peter (Ben O’Brien) comes over for a weekend, and they play a morbid drowning game. A friend of Anna’s comes by and John attempts to robotically seduce her. Something could be seriously wrong, but it also could be a case of a kid wanting to grow up too fast. While John and the Hole thrives on building palpable tension, not having something definite to hold onto hurts it.

In a way, the family becomes the thoughts of the audience left to interpret John’s motive. Is it because he wanted to bask in the perceived splendors of adult life for a while, or he generally wants them to have a slow, painful death? Sometimes, the scariest psychopaths have no motive to go off of. The fact that John seems so meek and innocent, but is hiding something else inside. Through their troubles, the family becomes closer together sans John. Thus, John and the Hole feels like a story that becomes infatuated with the synergy of the unsureness it formulates, but doesn’t quite find a way to bring it all together.


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Author: Murjani Rawls View all posts by
Journalist, Self-published author of five books, podcast host, and photographer since 2014, Murjani Rawls has been stretching the capabilities of his creativity and passions, Rawls has as a portfolio spanning through many mediums including music, television, movies, and more. Operating out of the New York area, Rawls has photographed over 200+ artists spanning many genres, written over 700 articles ranging displaying his passionate aspirations to keep evolving as his years in media continue.

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