The Hole in the Fence (El Hoyo en la Cerca)
Dir. Joaquin del Paso
A group of boys go to a summer camp run by some creepy adults, but a hole in the fence at the edge of the camp exposes them to the outside world.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Toxic masculinity seems to be the topic on everyone’s lips in the last few years. It’s easy to understand why with the absolute bullshit that has been showcased on the highest levels of society in recent times, though it’s becoming more and more obvious that it was always there, even when we didn’t notice it. Me Too seemed to very quickly evolve out of its intended purpose into an attempt to bring down as many men as possible (and rightly so, in most cases.) However, the reason wh Me Too held such sway, and why it was so important that it happened the way that it did, was because women have been experiencing these types of harassment and assaults for as long as the patriarchy has been a thing: it was Me Too because every woman you know has a story about it, every person from all walks of life has been treated differently or sexually harassed simply because they’re a woman. Too often, the response to these revelations were along the lines of “yeah, of course that’s true.” Too seldom did we actually seek to examine the root causes of these problems, and as often as society echoed the refrain that men should “teach their children not to rape,” too seldom did we look at why those men weren’t already teaching their children to behave in ways that didn’t victimize women.
Director Joaquin del Paso gives us a look inside this question in a purely chilling way, thrusting his viewers inside a church camp for rich children in Mexico. These children of the leaders of Mexican society are forced to undergo the same ritualistic and gaslighting experiences that their fathers went through in a camp that seeks to turn these boys into men through psychological torment and the instillation and encouragement of their worst impulses. The boys are continually subjected to various insidious forms of instruction, from scapegoating of the weaker children to the forced manual labor required by their captors. All of these oppressions are intended to accentuate a specific aspect of “manhood” in a way that would make their fathers proud.
They are being groomed, the “haves” in the societal equation, to eventually take their father’s places. The boys are cruel without prompting, however, treating their erstwhile acquaintances as whatever “other” applies to each situation. They utilize homophobic slurs, casual violence, and of course the requisite “locker room talk” as cudgels, seeking to beat down others so that they themselves may be raised up a peg on the proverbial totem pole of popularity. While one would think these types of behaviors would be discouraged by their religious overseers, we are unsurprised that they are instead emboldened to be horrible human beings to each other. It’s deliberate and coached toxic masculinity, and it has terrible and damaging consequences, as it often does in life. The strong prevail and the weak are crushed beneath their heels.
Del Paso takes more than a little inspiration from Lord of the Flies, though the cause of the boys’ bad behavior is clearly driven from above. Boys will be boys because they are taught by men from which the same was expected, after all. There comes a point, however, where the men are no longer in control, even in the time in these boys’ lives where they should be most under the paternal rule. They can’t be watched at all times, of course, and during the times where no one is watching (except, perhaps, God), these are the times when the lessons learned from their elders are more required. Like the children in William Golding’s lost island, eventually the children must rule themselves.
Del Paso takes a page from Ari Aster’s playbook, bathing most of his most heinous scenes in the brilliant light of day rather than hiding these boys’ sins under a bushel. The beautiful countryside of the camp, which sits just outside a poor village that depends on the donations from the religious leaders for their subsistence. Unfortunately, like the Greeks under the thumb of their gods of Olympus, their reliance on the camp’s benevolence comes at the cost of being subject to their nefarious whims, as we see in the film’s final act. Much like we continually see in American capitalism, the failures of the upper class are blamed on the lower, each incident that costs the wealthy something requires the poor to pay. The penalty is never exacted on those who are actually at fault but extracted from those who can least afford to pay the price.
While it is certainly disheartening to see a film like this being made in a country other than America, it is at the same time, I dunno, maybe a little encouraging that we’re not the only people with this problem? The rich run the world; of course we already knew that. But knowing the extent to which the wealthy rule in other societies makes our seem a little less damaged than it perhaps did before. Or maybe we’re all just damaged, and maybe that’s the point. Regardless of the ultimate lesson taken from del Paso’s film, it is a lesson that must be acted upon to prevent these events from repeating again with the next generation. But how, pray tell, can we prevent something that we ourselves are conditioned to teach?
Who this movie is for: Socially conscious thriller fans, Psychological horror lovers, Piggy
Bottom line: A gorgeously shot film with more than a few lessons for society, The Hole in the Fence is a coming-of-age story that highlights the worst lessons we learn from our elders. It’s an important film, one that, while being a bit too on the nose, still holds lessons for us all. It’s important to recognize that the things we learn from our fathers were originally learned by our fathers, and del Paso’s film takes aim at this cycle of toxic masculinity. I highly recommend that you check this one out if you get the chance, and if you’re around the Los Angeles area you can see it on May 26 at the Laemmle Theaters. It’s also getting released by Altered Innocence, a fantastic distributor that does a lot of their physical releases through Vinegar Syndrome, so I feel sure it will event