John and the Hole
Mutressa Movies & 311 Productions
Reviewed by Tami Smith, Film Reviewer for Shockya
Grade: B
Director: Pascual Sisto
Screenwriter: Nicolas Giacobone, adapted from his short story El pozo
Cast: Charlie Shotwell, Jennifer Ehle, Michael C. Hall, Taissa Farmiga, Tamara Hickey
Release Date: August 6th, 2021

His father calls him Buddy, his mother calls him Baby but nobody really understands John, not even John (Charlie Shotwell) himself. Growing up in an affluent, contemporary glass house, in a leafy back-of-the-woods northeastern location, in the U.S., John has all the material goods a young lad would desire, but he lacks emotions or facial expressions. This skinny teenager moves mechanically and his speech is flat. He regards school as a bore and gets excited while cursing his video pals online. After exploring the woods one day, John discovers a square bunker of sorts, (an actual abandoned dog shelter in real life). His father explains that a bunker is an underground home where people hide in case of a big storm, where they can survive for a week or a month, so a plan starts cooking in John’s thirteen-year-old brain. He is ready for action.

Experimenting with his mother’s sleeping pills makes him fatigued so he mixes some in a lemonade and offers it to the gardener. When the latter collapses on the loan, John mixes the formula in his family’s dinner drinks. His father Brad (Michael C. Hall), mother Anna (Jennifer Ehle), and older sister Laurie (Taissa Farmiga) fall into a deep night sleep and wake up in the mystery bunker, many hours later. How did they get there? You have to suspend disbelief but this skinny teenager did it all by himself: dragging their bodies down two floors, wheeling the trio to the woods, and placing them many feet under, with an open view to the elements. Their attempts to reason with John meet with blank stares, but he supplies them with food and clothing for the duration. He even cooks Risotto with a complimentary bottle of wine. He is now ready to start experimenting with adult life: driving a car, taking money from the ATM, eating fast food, drinking wine, telling lies to cover up his family’s absence at the home, and even trying some experimental drowning in the pool.

John and the Hole was adapted from a short story, El pozo, by Nicolas Giacobone who wrote the screenplay for the film. Though designed to be a psychological thriller, thrilling it is not. We see John giving the gardener a laced drink, watching him collapse with expressionless face and pocking some objects in his sister’s sleep-induced body. Our emotions intensify, at mid-point, when he starts making some passive-aggressive advances towards his mother’s friend Paula (Tamara Hickey), asking her How does it feel to be fifty, and inviting her to stay and watch a movie. The alarmed middle-aged woman leaves quickly and alerts the police. The scene does not lead to any plot pay-off.

Pascual Sisto directs this film with actors who deliver a laconically functional dialogue. Acting at John and the Hole is first rate. Charlie Shotwell gives John the required blank face of an emotionless person that tries to figure out what it means to be an adult. Nothing will make this privileged boy exit his stage of numbness. He may even end up in a place where he started in the beginning of the story. Jennifer Ehle, as Anna, John’s mother, and Michael Hall as Brad, John’s father, portray an affluent couple who tries to pamper their son and protect him from the realities of life. So it is with a great shock that they wake up one day in a hole, denied the basic necessities of the life they have been accustomed to. Taissa Farmiga plays Laurie, John’s older sister as a person who could not care less about her family while concentrating on her cell phone and nightly dates.

Director of photography Paul Özgür filmed John and the Hole with 4×3 aspect ratio, in long takes, showing a suburb outside Cambridge, Massachusetts, sometimes without music or dialogue. This anticlimactic creation was edited by Sara Shaw and is not meant for the “action-crowd” but viewers looking for a good acting ensemble will not be disappointed.

98 minutes   Rated: R © Tami Smith, Film Reviewer

Story: B
Acting: A-
Technical: B
Overall: B

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