A 13-year-old boy drugs his family and traps them in an unfinished bunker in the woods in the directly titled John and the Hole. That’s right, the boy’s name is John, and John apparently doesn’t like his family. Or just he wants to be alone for a few days. Or he’s a sociopath. Or some combination of the three.
It’s not entirely clear, and John and the Hole doesn’t elicit enough of a spark to truly make you care, either. Its Sundance synopsis describes it as “a harrowing psychological thriller and a potent coming-of-age fable exploring the difficult passage from childhood freedom to adult responsibility,” but that’s a real stretch. It’s about a kid, home alone, but unlike in Home Alone, he chooses the circumstances. And he clearly has issues. Beyond that, you’re left to fill in the blanks yourself, and if you want to glean that it’s about “passage from childhood freedom to adult responsibility,” good on you.
For the rest of us who absorb movies like normal people, John and the Hole is an intriguing, startlingly quiet, but ultimately unfulfilling thriller. It feels like Yorgos Lanthimos-lite, tonally similar to the inventive director’s work but lacking the ambitious edge or willingness to truly lash out. Rather, debut director Pascual Sisto lays the groundwork for something aggressive and compelling, but refuses to push boundaries.
A slow boil through and through, John and the Hole accelerates once, you know, John puts his family in the hole. But the climax, if you can even call it that, leaves you could.
This movie was reviewed as part of coverage of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.