Director Joaquín del Paso delivers a disturbing story told with mounting dread in The Hole in the Fence. This horror, fable-like film, shot with urgency and inescapable foreboding sensation, excels in direction but falters with a script that fails to stick the landing or justify all of what we’ve experienced by the time the film culminates.
Sut during the summertime, when children and teenagers should enjoy their adolescence, students of an elite religious school, Los Pinos, are instead sent to a camp outside the city. As they dibs their bunk beds and partake in bonfire activities, they’re also enabled to act upon misogynistic, homophobic, and racist impulses as they seek to grab hold of a world most have been taught is theirs for the taking. Teachers and priests sit idly by, content with the mantra of “boys will be boys” as long as it aligns with their religious doctrine, believing they’re there to act as pillars that guide the children on their paths to physical and moral development. The basic premise is enough to set the tone for something horrific, and things only increase in tension once a hole is found in the perimeter fence, leading to mysterious reveals and incents that allow the adults to push their fundamentalist views further.
The Hole in the Fence is one of the more upsetting films in recent memory, unrelenting in depicting the brutalist nature of these children and those overseeing them. Strongest in the early moments, the script doubles down on how radicalized religious groups pray, mobilize, and use that energy and power to hurt, belittle, and incite violence against marginalized groups. All while denouncing any who don’t believe in their projected higher power. We see this in the racist treatment of a student who was able to attend the school due to the merit of his work rather than his inheritance or how the group bullies a boy they believe to be gay.
The film leans heavily on visual metaphors — take, for instance, the shot of the boys wandering down the street only to be led to a herd of sheep. That said, the direction is strong and benefits the story, which runs into problems when it runs out of story to tell and instead simply doubles down on the narrative it’s already been running with, unable to develop it beyond what’s been presented.
By the end of the film, it’s hard not to wonder what on earth the point of it was. The message is clear: organized religion produces dogmatic, institutionalized violence born and bred by their egocentric entitlement. It would make the leaders and their followers believe they are in step and conversing with God. But if that’s it — if the only intent was to deliver again the message that men are susceptible to cultist-leaning groups that prioritize and glorify toxic masculinity, then it feels disturbing for disturbing sake. It’s another reminder of the artifice built to provide indestructible walls that protect sinners masquerading as saints.
Not every film needs an inherent message — but The Hole in the Fence has such a clear, deliberate one that it needed to be more than just unsettling imagery. The dexterity of the filmmaking that managed to ooze with palpable foreboding isn’t captured similarly in writing, which is where the film is let down. Carve ten minutes off the film, cut some of the one-on-one conversations with the leaders, and the mystery shrouding this camp they attend as well as the destructive nature these boys act on when given a sliver of a self-justification — a missing friend means they feel righteous in their decision to burn a village down — and the film would’ve fared as more than just a flipbook of terrible people doing terrible things.
Shot with a thrilling, anxiety-inducing pace, The Hole in the Fence is unwavering in tackling the wreckage that comes from entitlement and mob mentality. Simmering with anger, the filmmakers needed to channel some of that emotion into a script that does more than simply lay out its main thesis and meander through it. Instead, the story required greater emotional pull and a structure that allowed it to develop instead of remaining static.
The Hole in the Fence is now available to rent on Prime Video.
The Hole in the Fence
Director Joaquín del Paso delivers a disturbing story told with mounting dread in The Hole in the Fence. This horror, fable-like film, shot with urgency and inescapable sensation of foreboding, excels in direction but falters with a script that fails to stick the landing.