Groupthink at its best can heal communities. At its worst, it can unleash massive destruction. In pop culture, we’ve seen the worst of group thinking in classics like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, where a group of prep schoolboys is stranded on an island. Those who are othered or refuse to conform are hunted and destroyed. But what happens when it’s the adults that perpetuate the groupthink among the children? How far does the violence go then? This and more are addressed in Joaquín del Paso’s THE HOLE IN THE FENCE.
At a secluded religious summer camp deep in the Mexican countryside, a group of adolescent boys from wealthy families (except for scholarship student, Eduardo) arrive to take in the lessons that will shape them into the ideal men worthy of the elite. We’re swiftly introduced to the perpetuation of masculine norms as well as classism. They are quick to beat up on Eduardo (Yubah Ortega), who is dark-skinned, and call him names like ‘brownie’ that reinforce his status among the group.
They are also quick to pick up on any semblance of what they consider gay, and there is nothing worse to these boys than that as we see in their bullying of Joaquincito (Lucciano Kurti). It’s clear early on that Jordi (Valeria Lamm) is the leader of the pack and the primary instigator, and it is through Jordi that one can learn to fear the future elite of Mexico.
A trickle-down effect
Tensions begin to rise when on an outward excursion, the group finds a hole in the fence surrounding the safety of their camp. With a seed planted by their elders of the dangers surrounding their compound, the boys get riled up. Through a series of manipulation and gaslighting, the boys will find themselves overcome.
There is a cycle of behavior perpetuated in society, especially by the religious elite. Those who do not conform are generally the ones broken, cast out, or destroyed. Joaquín del Paso, who co-wrote the screenplay with Lucy Pawlak, is not subtle in these executions. Perhaps, this reality too is why del Paso built out the characterization and focus of the outsiders in THE HOLE IN THE FENCE. Eduardo, Joaquincito, and the disabled Diego offer the most in the film, but the focus on them reveals unfortunate truths.
Del Paso does not shy away from revealing the brutality of classism in THE HOLE IN THE FENCE. In fact, the fear and hatred of the poor villagers that live away from the compound are encouraged in the boys. These scenes are also the most uncomfortable but do not turn away. Del Paso wants us to see what is being encouraged and taught.
There is also the matter of religious hypocrisy. If it suits the elite, then all matter of sin is absolved. The elder’s manipulation and gaslighting of the boys is the most blatant, and del Paso is unforgiving in his depiction of them, especially regarding Diego.
No escape in THE HOLE IN THE FENCE
From all angles, these boys are not spared. From the elders to the parents to their peers, the societal messages they receive are reinforced and encouraged and seemingly inescapable. It is no wonder why the discovery of the hole in the fence rattles them. It serves as a reminder of how easy it is to slip through to the other side. A barrier between the elite and the poor, the worthy and the unworthy, a hole can equalize both sides.
While it is not subtle in its delivery, THE HOLE IN THE FENCE is a stark reminder of the toxicity of masculinity and how it is perpetuated from all sides through the usage of fear. There is no room for empathy or kindness. These are weaknesses. And, if you somehow wake up and try to separate yourselves from the pack, you may find yourself losing more than you bargained for.
Joaquín del Paso’s Venice Film Festival selection opened May 26 at the Laemmle Theaters in L.A., with more dates to come. Check here for the latest info on theatrical dates. It is also now available on-demand via Amazon and Vimeo.
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