Sundance Review: 'John and the Hole' Is a Whole Lot of Nothing Directed by Pascual Sisto
Starring Charlie Shotwell, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Ehle
Published Feb 01, 2021A sociopathic preteen boy drugs his entire family and wheelbarrows them into a hole deep in the forest that lines their multi-million dollar rancher home. He leaves them there to starve and wallow in their own filth while he indulges his every whim, driving their SUV around town and making huge cash withdrawal at the ATM to keep the fast food flowing while he games with his friends. That's the plot of John and the Hole, a movie that really shouldn't be this boring.
Based on a script by Nicolás Giacobone (who wrote 2014's Oscar-winning Birdman), Hole is the first feature from Spanish director Pascual Sisto. He did an excellent job in casting Charlie Shotwell as the cruel and mysterious John, but he can't seem to figure out what to do with it.
As the film moves on, we quickly realize that the hints of darkness are mere hints, and Sisto is not actually brave enough to let anything truly dark happen to any of his characters. On the flip side, he's too serious to let his characters have too much fun aside from some cuss-filled video game sessions and a handful of one-liners. The result is a jarringly atonal film that feels like someone took Michael Haneke's Benny's Video and edited it for release on Disney+. Here, the child sociopath drinks orange juice from the jug instead of milk. It may as well have been Sunny D.
What's worse, outside of John, the people filling that hole are far too hokey to make it any interesting — Jennifer Ehle, Taissa Farmiga and Dexter's Michael C. Hall do very little other than whimper about how much it sucks to be in that hole, but Hall in particular has too much sitcom energy so we barely believe him. Maybe the hole is actually nice.
Then, somewhere halfway through the movie, Sisto introduces two other characters — a mother and her young daughter, who begs her to tell her the story of John and the Hole once more. The few times the film cuts back to these two supposed narrators, things get increasingly dumber until you find yourself wishing you could reach through your TV screen into the editing suite and have them delete those clips from the timeline.
Though it's mostly arthouse for normies, there are a few moments where John and the Hole occasionally shines. Of course, those moments make the film all the more frustrating. After all, there's nothing more infuriating than squandered potential. (3311 Productions)