Couple in a Hole Grief, loss and self-punishment


In "Couple in a Hole", Karen and John are a couple living isolated in the Pyrenees, dealing with the loss of their child.

By Mayalani Moes

What must it be like to live ompletely isolated and alone from the rest of society? More precisely, to live in a forest, in a cave-like form? This is a life we can scarcely imagine. A life that we, from Western society, do not want to imagine.

To some it may sound like a form of paradise, to be cut off from any human contact and technology, to possibly find oneself in the midst of nature. However, making that our sole way of living is not in our intent.

“Couple in a Hole” (2015) is Tom Geens’ second feature film, and claims its three time title of the “Hitchcock Awards” (Golden Hitchcock, Hitchcock for Best Screenplay, Hitchcock of the Public).

In the film, a Scottish couple, Karen and John (played by Kate Dickie and Paul Higgins), is leading such a life in the Pyrenees. However, the film quickly reveals that they are not living in a hole because they want to but because they feel the deep need to do so–indeed, their son Mark died prior to the film’s storyline.

The film begins with a beautiful shot of filtered sun rays shining through the trees down to us. This is followed by a slow tilt, bringing us into the middle of breathtaking nature. We see a rabbit fleeing from something/someone. We are now introduced to John. Seconds later the rabbit is being prepared for dinner in a dark environment where we are then introduced to Karen, John’s wife.


Geen heavily relies on the element of nature. A lot of establishing shots and long shots are used here to mark the evident isolation and loneliness Karen and John are experiencing, a “sauvage” life.

The contrast between alienation and society is apparent when Geen decides to film a plane flying over the forest, John looking up to it and quietly watching it pass by. This is the first moment we understand that John might not want to live the life he’s living with his wife. Indeed, very quickly it becomes clear that Karen is suffering from a form of agoraphobia.

Karen decides to leave her hole, her safe-haven, when John asks her to come out and enjoy the rain with him. This moment is ruined when Karen gets bitten by a spider, sending her crawling back into her hole.

This chain of events shows that she is still unable to cope with the real world, to understand what happened to her son, to face the future.

A feeling of claustrophobia

It is true that the films’ soundtrack heavily reminds us of Alfred Hitchcock’s work. The tone of the music is very fast-paced, constrained, but also entails a notable element of claustrophobia.

The last ten minutes of the film’s score progressively intensifies in this way, giving the film an overall cold layer. Evidently, this does not change until the end, which leaves the audience in a somewhat chilly and blank state when the credits start rolling.

“Couple in a Hole” certainly is not like any other film; it outlines a predicament in which no parent will ever want to find themselves. Dickie’s and Higgins’ performances certainly embody a very believable and real aftermath of what might happen if parents lose their child.


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