13-year-old John (Charlie Shotwell) discovers an unfinished bunker while exploring the woods near his home. Growing weary of his mother (Jennifer Ehle), father (Michael C. Hall) and sister (Taissa Farmiga), he decides to drug them and traps them in the bunker. As the family try to understand Charlie’s actions, he gets accustomed to a life of independence free from expectations and restraints.
‘John and the Hole’ is from Spanish film-maker Pascual Sisto and writer Nicolás Giacobone (co-writer of ‘Birdman’). Essentially an exploration of teenage angst, the film follows John who ponders what it would be like to be an adult and responsible for himself. As his family bickers and exists around him, he feels disconnected and his decision to trap them all in the bunker he finds is one he makes with seemingly little thought. Even more chilling is that once he puts his family there, he shows little in the way of conscience either.
It feels as if the viewer is seeing the very beginnings of a disturbed young man who is going to grow up and do something heinous. We see John pushing the boundaries with a friend he invites over and he lies freely and easily to anyone and everyone he comes into contact with. His lack of empathy or emotion is shown as he visits his family and ignore their pleas to release them from the bunker. He just stares at them blankly, occasionally offering food, but never offering any explanation for his behaviour.
While ‘John and the Hole’ is visually very captivating, the same can’t really be said about the story. The film meanders along with little purpose and the introduction of a second plot involving a woman using John’s story as a way to teach her daughter feels unnecessary. Had John’s behaviour escalated after removing his family from the house, there may have been more tension or suspense. Instead, we essentially just watch him exist while his family try to wrap their heads around what has happened. I was expecting there to be some lesson or consequences for John but by the time the credits roll, all I could think was ‘oh, that’s it?’ There’s not even really an attempt to explain a motive.
It’s a real shame because the film has a stellar cast but sadly they aren’t given much to do. Shotwell as John gets the most material but even then, he’s never fleshed out more than a disturbed young child. We don’t get under his skin and while Shotwell’s performance is solid enough, he doesn’t do enough to make you feel one way another. Instead you feel the same state of ennui that John seems to possess.
‘John and the Hole’ has a very intriguing premise but sadly it never capitalises on it. I’m not entirely sure what I expected going into the film but I’m fairly it certain it’s not what transpired on screen. The sluggish pace soon makes the film feel a little dull and the lack of a real series of events in the narrative, will just leave you feeling a bit empty.
Cast: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Ehle, Taissa Farmiga, Charlie Shotwell Director: Pascual Sisto Writer: Nicolás Giacobone Certificate: TBC Duration: 98 mins Released by: IFC Films Release date: 6th August 2021