Film Review: ‘Couple in a Hole’

A grieving "Couple in a Hole" -- both psychological and literal -- are the focus of Tom Geens' oddball drama.

Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jerome Kircher, Corinne Masiero. (English, French dialogue.)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2818252/

Sometimes an even greater mystery than why someone chose to create a particular movie is why someone else chose to fund it. Both questions exert a greater fascination than anything onscreen by the end of “Couple in a Hole,” Belgian writer-helmer Tom Geens’ second feature. This initially intriguing drama centers around the odd conceit of two grieving Scottish parents who find themselves living in a French forest crawlspace near where their only child died. Bizarre yet literal-minded pic gradually goes out on a limb too far as the scenario moves from leisurely and enigmatic to exasperating and random. Commercial prospects for this befuddling, eventually ridiculous endeavor look remote.

It takes some time to figure out just what John (Paul Higgins) and Karen (Kate Dickie) are doing squatting beneath a dead tree in the mountains of Midi-Pyrenees. We eventually suss that they were living abroad when a fire destroyed their home and took the life of their young son. Still in a traumatized state months later, Karen can’t bear to leave the area, though it would seem there are easier ways to do just that than camping rough, foraging and trapping wild animals for food (the couple apparently don’t lack funds).

The two scrupulously avoid all other human contact; Karen has even managed to develop agoraphobia without benefit of an actual house to enclose herself in. But when she’s bitten by a poisonous spider, John is forced to visit the nearest village, where passer-by Andre (Jerome Kircher) helps him get the needed medicine. Though initially hostile toward further contact, John gradually accepts Good Samaritan Andre’s overtures of friendship, though neither man really speaks the other’s language.

When Karen discovers this supposed betrayal of their isolated vigil, however, there will be consequences — overblown, silly ones, which seem especially discordant coming in an unconvincing rush after the methodically slow, spare buildup.

Skillful thesps on tap (also including Corinne Masiero as Andre’s no-nonsense wife Celine) are committed, with Dickie (of “Red Road” and “Game of Thrones”) in particular clearly having made the skin-and-bones physical transformation to play someone who’s had months of significant dietary deprivation. But while Geens’ premise seems a bit fantastical — he’s said his starting point was simply the incongruous image of a normally dressed middle-class couple living in a dirt hole — his execution is all too straightforward and lacking the worked-out psychological nuances that might have made such a conceptual leap credible. Nor do the characters deepen to ballast later developments, which include melodramatic appearances by a shotgun and a wild boar.

Adding to the general disconnect between fuzzy intentions and dubious results is a score of mostly instrumental songs by U.K. indie band BEAK> that at first seems an arrestingly odd textural choice, then just becomes self-defeatingly odd. Pic’s one real pleasure is Sam Care’s widescreen lensing of the spectacular countryside. Other tech and design contributions are pro.

Film Review: 'Couple in a Hole'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (City to City), Sept. 19, 2015. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production: (U.K.-Belgium-France) A BFI presentation in association with Met Film and Blunt Stuff of a 011 Productions/The Chicken Factory production in co-production with A Private View and Les Enrages. (World sales: 011, Chatteris, England.) Produced by Zorana Piggot. Executive producers, Lizzie Francke, Cavan Ash, Colette Delaney-Smith. Co-producers, Dries Phlypo, Aurelie Bordier, Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem, Pierre Vinour.

Crew: Directed, written by Tom Geens. Camera (color, wide, HD), Sam Care; editor, Alain Dessauvage; music, BEAK>; production designer, Richard Campling; costume designer, Angela Billows; hair and makeup design, Sara Menitra, Lili Dang Vu; sound recordist, Christophe Penchenat; supervising sound editor, Gervaise Demeure; re-recording mixer, Jonathan Vanneste; assistant director, Ina Luders; casting, Rosalie Clayton.

With: Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jerome Kircher, Corinne Masiero. (English, French dialogue.)

More Film

  • Above the Shadows

    Film Review: ‘Above the Shadows’

    Grief-fueled romantic fantasies can be tricky for filmmakers not named Wim Wenders. Everyone aspires to make “Wings of Desire” with its stirring immediacy, beautiful imagery and pressing poignancy, but most wind up delivering something closer to its decent but dreary American remake, “City of Angels” — which could also be said for writer-director Cynthia Myers’ [...]

  • Crawl Movie

    'Crawl' and Other Disaster Movies Pose Unique Obstacles for Production Designers

    The rampaging fires, earthquakes and storms of disaster movies present unusual challenges for a production: On top of the normal work of creating a film’s lived-in and realistic locations, designers must build sets that the forces of nature can batter, flood and ravage into something completely different. Take “Crawl,” in which a Category 5 hurricane [...]

  • The Lion King

    'The Lion King' Tops $130 Million Overseas

    Disney’s “The Lion King” has roared past $130 million in international ticket sales ahead of its domestic debut, led by $76.6 million in its first week in China. Other markets began launching Wednesday, led by France with $8.3 million in its first two days with the second-biggest opening day for a Disney movie after “Avengers: [...]

  • The Lion King The Gift

    Album Review: Beyoncé’s 'The Lion King: The Gift'

    Before touching down on what Beyoncé has called her “love letter to Africa,” it’s important to see what may have brought her to the mother of mankind, with its wide vistas and sonic planes, for “The Gift” in the first place — beyond, of course, voicing Nala in the film and whatever international marketing tie-ins [...]

  • The Lion King

    'The Lion King' Roars to $23 Million Opening on Thursday Night

    Disney’s “The Lion King” has pounced on a mighty $23 million in North American locations in Thursday night preview showings. It’s the biggest preview number since Disney-Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” set the record on April 27 with $60 million. “The Lion King” is expected to debut with $150 million this weekend. Some forecasts estimate the tentpole [...]

  • Major Expansion Planned at Belfast Harbour

    Major Expansion Planned at Belfast Harbour Studios, Home of ‘Krypton’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Belfast Harbour Studios in Northern Ireland, where the Syfy series “Krypton” is shot, is set for a major expansion. The Warner Horizon-produced series has occupied the full site, which currently has two stages, since it opened in 2017. The landowners had signaled that they wanted to expand, and Variety has learned that plans for the [...]

  • Disney Movies

    Why Audiences Are Only Going to Disney Movies

    Julie Bikhman of Manhattan might buy the tickets, but when it comes to deciding what movie to see, her three young children are the ones calling the shots. “We pick them,” her 11-year-old daughter Annie declares before heading into a screening of Disney’s live-action “The Lion King.” “If it’s a Marvel movie, we know it’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content