THE HOLE IN THE FENCE Review: The Cruelty is the Point
"The rich are very different from you and me." F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said this with an apparently envy and longing to be rich. And there is a idea that most people want to be rich - but really, most people just want to be confortable. And you know why? The rich are horrifying. We're seeing this explored more as human civilization races towards all-out apocalypse, but it's probably always been true. Humans don't have the mental and emotional capacity for dealing with being so powerful (which is part-and-parcel with wealth) that they can do anything. And the cult that develops around this wealth and power is passed from generation to generation.
The Hole in the Fence, Juaquin del Paso's sophomore feature, does not hold back on a vision of how the rich and powerful, indeed, form a cult so tight that even those who would eventually be excluded, will still find a way to support and reinforce it. Instantly putting the viewer in a state of dis-ease which he maintains through the film, the story (by del Paso and co-writer Lucy Pawlak) tells a disturbing tale that feels, sadly, all too possible.
A group of the finest (ie wealthiest) tween age boys are being shuttled to a large camp in rural Mexico, presumably for a retreat of religious and other training to make them into the men their parents, and society, wants them to become. For a brief time, it seems these boys will be mostly bored as they have to sit through prayer meetings and go on bird watching expeditions. But it soon becomes clear that stranger things are afoot: the camp leaders tell them that the nearby village impoverished and full of dirty, nasty people; they are forced to take pills daily, despite not being ill; and they are being watched clandestinely in all their activities.
But it's not just the leaders who have a strange sense of how order is maintained and how these boys should develop. Many of the boys, already aware of their status in Mexican society, are bullies, and they take great delight in physically and mentally torturing the one indigenous boy, Eduardo - only there because he has a scholarship, therefore the leaders expect him to either fall in line with their teachings or be left in the proverbial cold. He already sees the results in one of the camp counsellors, Tanaka, the other person of colour there who seems to have no trouble towing the line.
This is, in part, a commentary on two cults that dominate contemporary Mexico: the cult of the church and the cult of the rich and powerful. The camp leaders coach all their language around the church and its symbolism, calling their work part of God's order, that disobedience is tantramount to sin. But of course, they do not follow their own words: they invent devils, they lie about theft and make scapegoats of whatever boy they see as 'weak'. The hole in the fence is literal - the boys are told how dangerous the outside world is - but that hole is never fixed. The camp leaders, those in power, need that hole as incentive to these boys to become ruthless and cruel, the rich and powerful's tools for staying rich and powerful.
Del Paso and Pawlak's script is both minimalist and textured. There is as much said between the lines as in them, and this is matched by quite chilling performances, especially from the younger actors. While the adults are cruel, this is somewhat expected, vile as it is, knowing how they are essentially training these boys in toxic masculinity. That some of the boys are cruel is also expected, since they are too many like this. It's those few who are effectively bullied into submission that break your heart. The starkness of the story and del Paso's lens show just how far this cruelty can go.
The Hole in the Fence gives us a perfect pastoral scene in which a group of boys become trained in the kind of brainwashing and lawlessness that is supported by those in power, the ramptant violence and disorder plagued upon those who must be kept under the thumb of absolute authority. The juxtaposition of this against the bucolic makes for a chillingly effective tale.
The Hole in the Fence opens on May 26th at Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles, with more dates upcoming.
The Hole in the Fence
- Joaquin del Paso
- Lucy Pawlak
- Joaquin del Paso
- Valeria Lamm
- Lucciano Kurti
- Eric David Walker