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John and the Hole Truth

John and the Hole is a psychological thriller starring Charlie Shotwell, a directorial debut for Pascual Sisto from Birdman's screenwriter, Nicolás Giacobone. The title sounds a bit clunky but don't let it fool you, this isn't any ordinary film. You'd think that based on the young actor and title it's the equivalent of little Timmy who got stuck in the well but that would be a stab in the dark.

The truth is that John and the Hole is actually a surprisingly artful thriller that plays like a mix of We Need to Talk About Kevin and Don't Tell a Soul. The "Kevin" aspect is quite obvious as the film progresses, channeling seriously creepy vibrations from what could have turned into a school shooter into something equally unsettling as cold, calculated and psychotic precision unfurls. The gloomy Rainn Wilson thriller Don't Tell a Soul also hinged on a young actor and dealt with a similar situation where a perpetrator becomes a warden to their hostage(s).

John and the Hole takes its time, using many extended shots to compose an otherwise peaceful situation where a wealthy family's estate becomes their prison as a domestic situation turns dramatically sour. The school shooter element comes through in the sense of pointlessness that belies the act and while not immediately violent shows a cold-blooded side to the character. Casting Michael C. Hall who's best known for playing Dexter in the iconic serial killer series is a masterstroke. Playing a distant father, the blood red apple doesn't drop far from the tree as son of Dexter rises up. It's less a blood lust and more of an apathy that dictates this undercurrent, which centres the audience on the wayward son.

Following a little creep who recalls the film Thumbsucker but actually comes from Captain Fantastic, The Nightingale and The Glass Castle, it's quite a responsibility for Shotwell. Keeping the dialogue fairly sparse, there's not too much heavy lifting and trying to go for a more naturalistic edge and spontaneity, his performance and styling make for an unsettling character portrait. He's not as likeable or charming as a McCauley Culkin and the film's not as accessible as Home Alone but these choices are very intentional. Not knowing John's true motivations helps keep a sense of intrigue as we too like his family ponder why he's doing it and what his true intentions will finally reveal.

John and the Hole

An elegantly shot production destined, John and the Hole counterbalances the sleek lines of a modern mansion against its lush natural environment and dilapidated bunker. Mucking about at home without any supervision, John gets a chance to bask in the privileges of being an adult. Offering a perspective on medicated America, there's a strange numbness to his actions as he himself starts to believe his family are just away for a while. This provocative concept keeps John and the Hole edgy as audiences wonder just how eerie and haunting Giacobone will allow the psychological thriller to become.

Teasing at possibilities, the outcome is much tamer than one would expect, diverting expectations but also serving as an anti-climax. Taking so much time to offer a slow-burn and slow-build of suspense, one would expect something much more sinister. John and the Hole's resolution has its own haunting quality that will linger with more question marks around a subplot but apart from some majestic moments, the net result is that it feels like it falls short of its true potential.

Not every film has to be predictable or violent and perhaps there's something to be said for the viewer's own blood lust in this instance where there's almost a disappointment in John following through like his tennis coach would have him do 300 times. While the darkness threatens to run amok, it's strange how our judgement of the boy's deranged behaviour isn't actually as far removed from our own as we would like to believe. John and the Hole may get more in-depth analysis and credit depending on where Sisto's career takes him but right now the feeling is that it underdelivers on promises - especially after dangling such a creepy-looking carrot.