Only Tom Geens’ second feature film (after 2009’s Menteur) Couple in a Hole is a bold and startlingly pained micro-study. The film follows an apparently well-to-do Scottish couple, played by Kate Dickie (The Witch) and Paul Higgins (The Thick of It), live like savages deep in the heart of a forest in Provincial France.
The film looks as it should for the story it is telling, but there’s not an immense amount going on technically. A meandering camera can be forgiven for nature porn in the early minutes since scene setting is important, but after that, there’s just no interest in composing startling images, the work instead carried by the performers on screen. It’s a shame because there are moments where the film conjures great images, and generally it maintains a good atmosphere of grim mystery and holiday film realism.
It is a wise decision to spoon-feed the audience hints of narrative since the setting is so timeless it constantly plays with our assumptions of place and time. These scenes show Higgins character setting traps for rabbits, skinning one and disembowelling it, before eventually revealing he is dressed in modern attire and speaks eloquently. The reveal of a plane over-head further confuses, burning a question mark into the film. Its great writing and shows strong ideas about what it wants the audience to feel.
Couple in a Hole is first and foremost, an actor’s film. The latent power of performance is splayed out by Scottish stars Paul Higgins and Kate Dickie, the two painstakingly navigating the grief of child death against the stripped-back setting of the forest. Their work is subtle and studied; Higgins’ deals with slow realisation of awakening from grief, a frustration that fuels his undercurrent of rage. Dickie is put through the ringer, exposing nerve endings unseen for a blistering portrait in inconsolable grief. Hers is the stand-out of the two because of her talent, but also because the script demands that she be. Without Dickie’s conviction, the reasoning for the film, the answer to its mystery, could have fallen flat.
The final shot is a slip-up not easily recovered from, its symbolism is so obvious its actually quite irritating, which is a shame when this story was so focused on human pain and suffering in the most natural way. The ending was so bittersweet and deserved it seems thrown away. Just goes to show, every film is one CGI boar away from the fantastical.
An astoundingly well-performed piece which feels like a less nightmarish version of Antichrist, Couple in a Hole is involving and gut-wrenching-without horror or gore- at its best.
Dir. Tom Geens
Stars: Kate Dickie, Paul Higgins, Jerome Kircher, Corinne Masiero