Couple In A Hole review

Game Of Thrones’ Kate Dickie co-stars in the survival drama, Couple In A Hole. Ryan takes a look...

Featuring a mere handful of characters and a lot of greenery, writer-director Tom Geens’ Couple In A Hole is a lean, economical psycho-drama that doles out its morsels of plot in tiny parcels.

Paul Higgins (Utopia, The Thick Of It) and Kate Dickie (Game Of Thrones) play a Scottish couple who’ve turned their backs on modern society and set up home in the middle of a forest. Higgins’ character, John, has taken up the role of the hunter-gatherer – catching and cooking rabbits, fishing, picking grubs and berries – while Kate (Dickie) stitches animal skins together in a dank hovel dug into the husk of a fallen tree.

At first, the lush expanse of the forest and the grubbiness of Kate and John’s clothes might imply that we’re in post-apocalypse territory; has society fallen, leaving nature to reclaim the land? Couple In A Hole’s measured tempo constantly keeps us guessing, with the answer to one mystery immediately posing another question; if this is the present day, what would prompt a seemingly normal couple to leave their lives behind and decamp to the middle of nowhere?

Initially, we aren’t even sure whether either character can speak. Kate and John’s humanity is only gradually revealed – as is the hint of some recent trauma which might account for their drastic change of scenery. Geens’ subtle direction and Sam Care’s cinematography hint at all kinds of neuroses and paranoias lingering at the edges of the frame, but it’s the two central performances that carry the film. Higgins and Dickie bring tenderness and humanity to their characters – the easy familiarity of a couple who’ve spent half their lives together.

Ad – content continues below

Couple In A Hole isn’t a film full of wrenching, Shyamalan-like twists and surprises, but rather of small details which gradually build to a broader picture: the intricate packages that Kate makes and John throws off a ravine. What does this strange ritual represent? John is both entranced and angered when he stumbles on artefacts from the outside world. Geens takes his time explaining why all this is, focusing instead on the minutiae of his characters’ relationship, and how it changes when an outsider (played by Jerome Kircher) threatens to upset their equilibrium.

Sharply edited and shot, Couple In A Hole elegantly depicts the beauty of its forest setting and the harsh realities of survival; Kate and John’s life in the wild is far from idyllic, with their every waking moment devoted to keeping themselves warm and fed. It’s in these detailed, performance-led sequences that Couple In A Hole is most effective; the film starts to lose its way when the story flips over into more typical thriller territory in the final stretch. The abrupt conclusion, which refers back to an earlier conversation in an admittedly surprising way, is more eyebrow raising than entirely satisfying.

Yet, even with its somewhat muddled third act, Couple In A Hole remains a superb showcase for Kate Dickie and Paul Higgins’ acting strengths, and for Geens’ talent as a director. An exploration of a very unusual marriage, Couple In A Hole is the product of a filmmaker who’s confident enough to pare a story back to its absolute essentials; it has the poetic simplicity of a Terrance Malick film, but without the overblown portentousness which sometimes goes with it.

For the most part, Couple In A Hole is an absorbing and earthy drama laced with a delicate thread of mystery.

Couple In A Hole was playing at Glasgow Film Festival.


3 out of 5