One of the breakout discoveries of Sundance and Cannes festivals this year was Pascual Sisto’s troubling allegorical take on teenage alienation as the titular John decides to trap his family in a deep hole.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2021
The Sundance Film Festival referred to Pascual Sisto’s mesmerising debut as Home Alone by way of Michael Haneke, which gives an inkling to what this allegorical psychodrama has instore until the screenplay, penned by Academy Award-winning Nicolás Giacobone (Birdman, The Revenant), decides to subvert expectations as we peer into a comic abyss of teenage alienation.
Played with cool detachment by young Charlie Shotwell (Captain Fantastic NZIFF 2016), John is a 13-year-old enigma; coddled by loving parents Brad and Anna along with sister Laurie, we sense there’s something off about the lad, even as the rest of his family are oblivious. Whether it’s a fondness for faux-drowning or asking perplexingly strange questions, to total indifference for the nuclear family surrounding him, something is not right in this suburban malaise. After receiving a new drone to play with, this awkward oddball discovers a bunker hidden in the woods near their home and it’s not long before he’s trapping his family inside. Free of the shackles of domestic imprisonment, he invites his best friend Ben over to stay a few nights. With no parental restrictions, the kids cut loose and let their teenage Id fly, from deadly games of endurance to childlike goofiness. We’re kept on edge waiting to find out what this teenage sociopath has planned for his trapped family and any guests who arrive unannounced.
Brilliantly composed by cinematographer Paul Özgür, each boxy frame compliments Sisto’s background as an installation artist whose inherent sense of architecture and negative space quickly becomes cluttered as John’s rebellious nature intrudes on the minimalism and pristine configurations of this troubling coming-of-age exercise. — AT