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john and the hole
Charlie Shotwell appears in <i>John and the Hole</i> by Pascual Sisto, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Paul Özgür.

Movie Reviews

[Sundance ’21] ‘John and the Hole’ review: Dark non traditional coming of age story

Plenty of mystery.

John and the Hole arguably has the most unique premise of any movie playing at Sundance. The non traditional coming of tale is about the titular character (Charlie Shotwell) who finds a hole in the ground one day. He decides to drug his both of his parents and his sister (Taissa Farmiga) and hold them captive in the hole. As his family tries to escape, John lives his life.

The filmmaking is creative and will grab the audience’s attention. For example, the first almost half hour of the movie is used to set up the story. John and the Hole paints a picture of family life that is enviable. Everyone seems to love each other and there is no sign of dysfunction. For all intents and purposes, they live a well adjusted life.

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In that opening the mystery starts to build. There are signs that something is troubling John, but he seems like any other kid his age. Once it is clear there is something more going on, the question becomes why? He is rich and seems to want for nothing. This is what makes the plot so captivating.  Aside from the title, there is no sign anything untoward is going to happen.

John and the Hole thrives on this ambiguity. Along with the central mystery, characters and concepts are brought up that will have the audience asking questions. What some may find frustrating is the lack of connectivity. Trying to provoke conversation is commendable; introducing random elements to a story is something entirely different.

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That being said, the film is incredibly engaging. Along with the main question, an interesting subplot is added. This is the best part of John and the Hole as it will invite comparisons. Regrettably, it does not seem to go anywhere. The story becomes more concerned with a child being left to their own devices. This is where the coming of age portion of the story comes in, but it never quite syncs up with the other story being told.

John and the Hole manages to mix wide open spaces and claustrophobia perfectly. This is especially noteworthy here since the movie deals either in large wide open spaces or the cramped hole. There is either a feeling of there being too much room or not enough. There is no middle area for a point of reference, yet the movie manages to convey both feelings.

Working with abstract themes is a risky proposition. Drawing an audience into a film viscerally is fairly easy, but making them think can be tricky. John and the Hole manages to pull this off, but it is with mixed results. The vagueness of the story will definitely encourage thought, but there does not seem to be enough to provide a satisfactory answer. 

Continue to check out AIPT for our ongoing coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. Tickets and a full lineup can be found here.

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