SUNDANCE 2021 PREMIERE – Proving the theory that high concept does NOT equal quality is the captive drama JOHN AND THE HOLE. It’s the story of coddled adolescent John (Charlie Shotwell) who sort of goes off the deep end. Or rather, he sends the rest of his family there. Living in a pristine, symmetrical museum piece of a home among the wooded upstate of a non-disclosed state with his father Brad (Michael C. Hall), his mother Anna (Jennifer Ehle) and his older sister Laurie (Taissa Farmiga) exist in relative serenity. That is, until John discovers a concrete pit deep in the woods behind his home. John decides to drug his family and places them into this pit, effectively sequestering them and allowing himself a life of unbridled existence. It pains me to say that with a remarkable amount going for it, JOHN AND THE HOLE stunk.
Let’s start with the good. Shotwell is chilling as the unaffected, yet painfully curious titular character. Pushing boundaries and delivering toe-curling lines without so much as a twitch on his face, he captures the embodiment of an entitled upper-middle-class kid who is looking to explore. Next there is the understated camera work of Paul Ozgur who frames scenes in a way that forces us to perceive, almost subliminally, that everything has a place and an order. It comes as no surprise that, with John wanting to assert himself, that he ends up drugging his family and placing them into a receptacle. This is exactly what a child of order would do.
Then the first act ends the script by Nicolás Giacobone sputters. John puts everything in order, puts his family away, and goes about flexing his existential freedoms. John invites his buddy Peter (Ben O’Brien) over for a weekend of video games, near-drowning in the family pool, and trips to the money store (aka the parent’s atm machine) The placid pace of Pascual Sisto‘s direction, his observational, voyeuristic tone, and adds a layer of seething tension to the otherwise monotone action, hinting at the possibility that something truly awful is about to happen. Alas, we are given a petulant child who outsmarts his family members only to (spoiler alert) live to see another day.
I think that what is so frustrating about JOHN AND THE HOLE is the embarrassment of talent at the disposal of the production and the bland end result. The story never really offers much depth to anyone but the main character and essentially uses its 103-minute runtime to validate the supporting character’s absence. We are left with a film that teaches its characters nothing, which, in effect leaves us with nothing to ponder aside from don’t drink any lemonade that a sullen teenager offers to you. However, if it meant we would end up in a bunker with Michael C. Hall…
JOHN AND THE HOLE screened at the SUNDANCE 2021 film festival.
4 out of 10