Directed by Tom Geens
Starring Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jerome Kircher
Film review by Colin Lomas
There are marketing companies who would charge you the price of a Jordan Belfort house party to come up with the best name for a movie. ‘You need something smart’ they would WhatsApp you from the break out canoe in their Shoreditch offices, ‘Relevant’, ‘Sophisticated’, ‘Serene’, ‘Something virtual for the Millennials’. But you know what? If you’ve got a film about a couple living in a hole, save the budget and the bullshit and just call the bloody thing what it is.
Couple in a Hole, as you may have partially gathered by now, is about a couple living in a hole in the woods somewhere in rural France. The two are introduced during daily activities; John (Higgins), the hunter gatherer of the pair catching and skinning a hapless bunny for the pot, and Karen (Dickie), sitting in the hole stitching together furs into a rather fetching but doubtfully PETA approved patchwork blanket.
On a rare excursion from the hole, Karen gets bitten by a spider and becomes ill, forcing John to travel into town for medication. Here he meets Andre (Kircher), the gentle local chemist who asks how they are getting on in the woods. It is at this point, with John telling Andre he has plenty of money and doesn’t need charity, that you realise the couple’s living accommodations are of their choosing. The key question then simply becomes ‘why?’. Why are they living in a hole? Why are they so close to town? Why is Karen so utterly afraid of the world? The rest of the film’s sole purpose is to gradually tease these answers out.
Aside from the mysterious particulars of the living arrangements, the most engaging part about Couple in a Hole is the contradicting needs of the couple and the discord they create; John’s jovial persona longing for alternative company and Karen’s obsession with locking herself away from the dread of the outside world. Dickie plays the agoraphobic Karen to perfection. Her complete regression from life and emaciated appearance are startling, the occasional panicked emergence from the hole is breath-holding material. Higgins is perfectly cast as the friendly but uncompromisingly loyal and protective John; his approachable intelligence keeping the course of the plot credible and preventing things becoming too gloomy.
Why, oh, why then Geens decided to end the film as he did only he will ever know. After being lovingly snuggled in the fur-lined blanket of John’s progression and Karen’s regression for an hour and a half, the last thing you would expect is the ending you unfortunately receive. It feels flustered, freaky and unrealistic (an impressive feat for a film about two Scottish people living in a hole in France) and undoes a lot of what has come before.
Couple in a Hole works far better than it perhaps should and productions of such limited budget and scope should always be applauded. Although flawed in places and with that terrible ending, it is for the most part a legitimately enjoyable and captivating outing.