A teenager coolly assumes control of his family in this satirical thriller from Spanish artist Pascual Sisto
What does it feel like to be an adult? That’s the question haunting a privileged, empathy-free adolescent in this chillingly satirical feature from the Spanish film-maker and visual artist Pascual Sisto. Adapted by screenwriter and co-producer Nicolás Giacobone (whose screen credits include Biutiful and Birdman) from his short story El Pozo, John and the Hole combines riffs from dime-a-dozen entrapment horrors with the absurdist unease of European art-house cinema and a strong thread of fairytale yarn-spinning. While the result may not be quite as deep as the cavern at the centre of the story, it has an enticing sliver of ice at its heart.
Sisto opens with a 4×3 closeup on the face of 13-year-old John ( Charlie Shotwell, star of the 2019 horror Eli) as an offscreen teacher demands: “What’s the square root of 225?” “I don’t know,” John replies, having been apparently lost in his own thoughts. “Yes, you do, John,” the teacher’s voice insists, prompting him to blurt out “15”. “How did you arrive at that conclusion?” “I don’t know…” It’s an enigmatic curtain-raiser that compactly establishes the key elements of the story: John’s numbed isolation (he is the only distinguishable figure in the frame); the anxiety of youth (his eyes betray a hint of panic); his intelligence, matched with a lack of understanding (he knows the answer, but doesn’t know how).