Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
While flying his drone, 13-year-old John (Charlie Shotwell) discovers an unfinished bunker in the woods near his family’s isolated home. Without any provocation, he drugs his parents (Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Ehle) and older sister (Taissa Farmiga) and places their unconscious bodies into the bunker. While they are held captive, John heads to their home free to do what he wants.
Screenwriter Nicolás Giacobone excellently adapts his own Short Story. This haunting Psychological Thriller and coming-of-age fable is spellbinding. Giacobone examines the adolescent desire for responsibility and freedom that comes with adulthood. He shows this through John’s frightening act of holding his family hostage; while intelligently showing the immaturity of a teenage boy through impulsive spending, ignoring household tasks and testing his life through a drowning game with his friend. These often-dark scenes show there is a bigger disconnect between childhood and adulthood than responsibility.
The Script is seeping in ambiguity within scenes and characters, therefore, constantly leaving the story open for interpretation. One of Variety‘s Top Ten Directors to Watch, Pascual Sisto, makes his directorial debut with John and the Hole. Sisto heightens this ambiguity with his quiet, haunting atmosphere and grounds this unsettling tale. He creates a mood with the disorienting and sinister use of sound, designed by Nicolas Becker, that cuts right through you. Additionally, Sisto’s use of shallow-focus composition places John at the forefront of each image. This creates the necessary air of authority about this creepy adolescent.
Both Giacobone’s script and Sisto’s direction play with the concept of time. This is integral to the depravity of the act John is committing against his family. We wonder how much time has past since his family has been captive, and how long it’s been since he’s visited them. It’s in these visits, where we see him deliver food, water and clothes, where John’s compassion, or lack thereof, is examined. There are ample layers to John’s blank exterior which helps keep us intrigued and shocked throughout.
Shotwell, who we know from Captain Fantastic, is surrounded by powerhouse talent: Hall, Ehle and Farmiga. Each of them gives stunning performances that expose their privilege, compassion and fear. Yet, it’s Shotwell who is the star of John and the Hole. He gives a chilling, deep performance that has to be seen to be believed. He controls each emotion and power switch within the script and understands and visualizes John’s fixation on adulthood. He is one to watch.
Overall, John and the Hole is an eerie meditation on a child wanting to be an adult and the lengths he’ll go to experience it. It has an outstanding, breakout performance from Shotwell along with powerful performances from Hall, Ehle and Farmiga. It’s a film that will stay with viewers and be discussed for years to come.
John and the Hole screens at Sundance:
Live Premiere: January 29 at 6 PM (EST)
On-Demand (available for 24 hours): January 31 at 10 AM (EST)
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