It’s impossible to discuss Couple In A Hole, the latest film from Belgian director Tom Geens, without mentioning Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. The plot alone is enough to warrant reasonable scepticism – a couple retreating to the woods following the death of their child, does indeed bear heavy resemblance to that of the Danish enfant terrible’s 2009 film. On the surface the similarities are glaring; a grieving mother, a confused father, and retreat from civilisation. An imitation, however, it is not, and the difference in method in which it examines the devastating effects the loss of a child can have on its parents enables the film to be judged on its own merits.
Somewhere in the vast forests of France, a Scottish couple have abandoned civilisation and are living like feral savages. Karen (Katie Dickie) is a mother who, unable to cope with the loss of a child, is physically and mentally crippled by unbearable grief. She says little and finds it near impossible to leave the hole she is confined to, instead stitching together pieces of fur.
The viewer’s perspective is largely seen through the eyes of father John (Paul Higgins) who hunts for food and gathers wood. Grief appears to affect John in a very different way to that of his wife. Early in the film he gazes perhaps nostalgically at a plane travelling above the French woods, and it soon becomes clear he yearns for a little civilisation and is going through the motions for the love of his wife, the only love that remains.
Both actors are on top form particularly Dickie whose weight loss for the role contributes to a performance of great emotional depth. It is arguably the embodiment of a film concerned with the absolute extremities of grief and the influence it has on the human condition.
Despite its lo-fi qualities and shoe-string budget Couple In A Hole is beautifully shot. Geoff Barrow’s Beak> provides its haunting score which contains elements of Montreal’s post-rock outfit Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The sense of grim isolation it creates is an impressive contrast to such beautiful landscapes.
That is not to say this film is without flaws. It does suffer from some overbearingly obvious symbolism and foreshadowing resulting in a rather misplaced ending which is best left unsaid to avoid spoilers. Arguably a sign of a director who has yet to fully find his feet, there is still great promise displayed in the Belgian’s second feature film following 2009’s little seen drama Menteur.
Unlike Antichrist, Geens’ film is not a horror. It is a poignant drama relatively low in terms of experimentation. Less hallucinatory, less gimmicky in fact, a simpler film and is all the better for it. It might not be a film that will linger long after viewing, but it is one which provides an emotionally fraught depiction of the extremities of grief.