Couple in a Hole
April 2016 will see the release of Tom Geens mesmerising film Couple in a Hole. We were fortunate to catch a preview showing at The Watershed in Bristol recently and thought it was worth tipping you off about this thought provoking experience.
First up, we hate to give too much away regarding plot lines, it’s so much better to watch a film without having read, seen or heard about every key moment in a film. How much more rewarding to settle down in the cinema and let the story unfold before you, letting you fully engage in the drama.
So, that being the case, we just wanted to talk about the feel of the emotional pull of the film rather than the normal this happens, then that happens and then there is an amazing car chase scene involving a plane, a rabbit and an old jumper. Although some of the things in the last sentence may be important markers in this engrossingly subtle film.
The barebones though can be safely revealed; the film is about a couple who are living in a hole in the ground, in the middle of the woods. For a long while we don’t know what has brought them to this strange situation. From their clothing, the story appears to be set in a current time frame, so we start to ask ourselves what has lead to this situation and how can they be extradited from it? It is clear that something terrible has happened to put them here as they are clearly damaged emotionally. Grief, and ways of dealing with it, are an important part of the film. Yet, it doesn’t use that grief as easy way to manipulate the audience.
To understand the situation, we follow John and Karen, (astoundingly played by Paul Higgins and Kate Dickie) as they go about their daily routine. Slowly clues are presented to us, but the audience is allowed to make up their own mind regarding many of the motivations for the behaviour of these two. The setting is bleak and demanding yet is placed in the midst of stunning scenery. In fact the landscape and what it can offer juxtaposed with the way it challenges the couple, becomes an important part of the films narrative.
Sound plays an important role in the film. Dialogue is sparse and spare, with conversations that are often little more than fragments. A seemingly unlikely score from Bristol three-piece Beak> compliments the sounds of nature from within in the woods. The band provide a combination of old and reworked tracks that help to emphasise the unsettling situation, The repetitive, electronic music, could appear to be at odds with the woodland scenes which would prompt some directors to turn to romantic piano or lush orchestration. Yet it’s the space and sense of unease in the music, which helps to develop the mood of the film.
If you like your films with clearly signposted developments, Couple in a Hole probably isn’t for you. It’s a film a film that asks the audience to work a little and the films conclusion still leaves you with questions to wrestle with.
At the screening we attended there was a Q&A session after the film with director Tom Geens and Geoff and Billy from Beak>. One of the audience members linked the mood of the film and the use of music with Under the Skin, the Jonathan Glazer film from 2014. Although the films are very different in theme and tone, I think that it was a good comparison to draw. Both films back you into a tense and claustrophobic corner, or in this case maybe a hole.
Unsettling but rewarding Couple in a Hole shows that Tom Geens has a singular vision and this film, and we hope future work from him, are well worth spending your time with.