This intriguing drama by Tom Geens revolves around a couple who are living in a hole in the ground, as the title suggests. Said hole exists underneath a giant fallen tree somewhere in the woods in the Pyrenees, and the couple in question are, somewhat unexpectedly, a pair of middle-class Scots who are surviving by foraging and hunting small animals, such as the unfortunate and soon-to-be-skinned rabbit we see at the start of the film. Immediately certain questions spring to mind: why are they living there, of all places? What has happened to them? Has there been an apocalypse, or a disaster that has forced people to vacate France’s towns and cities? Why is the woman, Karen (Kate Dickie), afraid to venture out into the daylight? Why is the man, John (Paul Higgins) throwing the gifts she makes him off the top of a cliff? To address any of these questions here would be to spoil the plot, or parts of it, but everything is gradually explained as time elapses, and the plot eventually involves a French couple, played by Jérôme Kircher and Corinne Masiero, who live nearby. The premise – once explained – and the woodland setting means that Couple In A Hole shares a little common ground with a few other recent European arthouse films, such as The Lobster and Les Combattants (aka Love At First Fight), both of which feature characters establishing new lives in the woods, though it’s far darker than either of those 2015 films. Perhaps a closer cousin is this year’s post-apocaltyptic drama The Survivalist; both open with a dialogue-light fifteen minutes that establishes the respective routines of its protagonists, both feature similar themes regarding hunting/being hunted, and both feature some excellent photography that’s primarily coloured by the lush greens and earthy browns of the environment (even if the two films eventually do move off in wildly different directions).
Scored by the sparse Bristolian trio Beak (featuring Geoff Barrow of Portishead), it’s fascinating to watch the daily life of this couple unfold while also trying to figure out what has happened to affect their relationship and their mental health so badly that John has taken to tempting Karen out of the hole using grubs and other edibles as bait. But no more details from me: you’re going to have to forgive me for being vague, because the less you know about this going in the better. The film features a pair of very good performances by Dickie – who recently appeared in The Witch – and Higgins, both of whom seem to disappear into their characters and manage to render the living situation that has been chosen completely believable, while Kircher and Masiero convince in their supporting roles. Geens – who also wrote the screenplay – successfully piques the viewer’s interest straight away, develops it further by dropping clues about the common link the four characters share, and delivers more than an hour of an arresting, finely-constructed film, which occasionally features a Malickian appreciation of the natural world. It’s a shame, then, that after such a sure-handed opening the events during the final act are not particularly credible, and that Couple In A Hole features a rather messy ending that comes close to undoing all that promising work.
Directed by: Tom Geens.
Written by: Tom Geens.
Starring: Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jérôme Kircher, Corinne Masiero.
Cinematography: Sam Care.
Editing: Alain Dessauvage.
Running Time: 100 minutes.