John and the Hole review – total-dysfunction movie as kid dumps family in the ground

Spanish artist Pascual Sisto’s fable of a boy holding his family hostage is well made, but it revolves around a tiresome cop-out

Spanish artist and film-maker Pascual Sisto made his directing debut with this movie, written for the screen by Nicolás Giacobone, known for his script collaborations with Alejandro González Iñárritu: it was selected for the First Features section of the Covid-cancelled 2020 Cannes film festival. John and the Hole is well enough photographed and acted, but is really an oppressive and exasperatingly pointless piece of work, without consistency or the courage of its realist convictions.

John (Charlie Shotwell), is a 13-year-old kid in a well-to-do American family (cue traditional tense family dinner scenes) whose main interest is tennis. He is clearly alienated from dad Brad (Michael C Hall), mum Anna (Jennifer Ehle) and elder sister Laurie (Taissa Farmiga). Moody, lonely John one day discovers a large, concrete-lined hole in neighbouring woodland, part of an abandoned construction site – so he drugs his family and puts them down there while they are out cold.

As the days of their imprisonment drag on, John’s family go mad with hunger and panic down in their hole and frantically shout up to their blank-faced son to let them out. But wait. How has he drugged them? How did he drop them down there without breaking every bone in their bodies? And – most pertinently of all – how come they never need to go to the bathroom?

Well there is a tiresome alibi cop-out which relativises this whole thing, involving a set of other characters: a young girl and her mother, the latter who herself starts herself to behave bizarrely and bafflingly, though with no jeopardy or consequences

. Perhaps the film wants to show the child’s fear of adulthood and the adult’s fear of childhood. But the resulting effect is a sterile, supercilious, derivative exercise in sub-Euro-arthouse ordeal. But there is no ordeal because nothing is at stake.

• John and the Hole is released on 8 October in cinemas and on digital platforms.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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