Review: John and the Hole (Sundance 2021)

What It Is: 13-year-old boy John (Charlie Shotwell) discovers an unfinished bunker near the back of his house where he suddenly chose to drug and drag his unconscious family, including his affluent parents (Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Ehle) and older sister (Taissa Farmiga) into.

What We Think: This is yet another film with a silly title and premise that should not be outright dismissed based on those points alone. While it admittedly is on the weird side, this original coming-of-age story boasts a compelling story about growing up but can’t quite sustain that energy, running out of runway by the end. Going a little too far in the wrong direction in terms of weirdness, the film certainly could have benefitted from a more straight approach though a strong central performance works to keep it afloat in spite of its issues. The cold and emotionally-detached John won’t be for everyone as it is bound to cause a disconnect between him and viewers. Nevertheless, his arc over the course of the film was still somewhat relatable.

The removal of his family afforded the naively-curious teen the chance to figure things out on his own. From there, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone as John took advantage of the situation as any teen would. While this was kind of fun to watch as he kept finding ways to keep it going, this was tempered by the fact that John’s perceived endgame was unclear though which did get frustrating after a while though it was clear that whatever his plan was, it wasn’t going to last. Meanwhile, John’s confused family fought to survive while getting to the bottom of why they found themselves in the hole. The connection between John and his family lacked development thus the lack of closure at the end will leave viewers disappointed and feeling as if their time was wasted.

Our Grade: B. John and the Hole was Shotwell’s performance and range as the titular character. While his eerie turn was unsettling, his charisma and relatability also made it easy to connect with that side of the character which at least made his journey watchable despite the thin characters. Those looking for something different should give it a chance.

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Author: Keith Noakes