Altered Innocence: The Hole in the Fence (2021) - Reviewed

Image courtesy of Altered Innocence 

Joaquin del Paso’s The Hole in the Fence has something to say, and it’s brutal.  What initially seems to be a sweet coming-of-age film for a group of boys in pastoral Mexico soon becomes a testosterone-fueled nightmare of privilege and prejudices.  While the backdrop of this film is a very singular place and culture, the message it conveys is all too universal for comfort, and it’s an unsettling but powerful exploration of humanity’s most shameful traits.


The film takes place in a Christian summer camp for boys in the scenic Mexican countryside.  The boys are given strict orders to stay away from the locals and warned that they are being watched at all times.  The longer we witness the happenings of this camp, that threat seems increasingly serious.  It gradually becomes evident that the adults cannot be trusted and have insidious agendas.  The threats aren’t simply coming from the adults running the camp, however:  anyone who the boys deem different becomes the victim of intense bullying.  For instance, an indigenous boy who is there on a scholarship is ridiculed for being of a lower class than them, while anyone who seems slightly anything other than textbook heterosexual also becomes an obvious target.  The camp is essentially a breeding ground for discrimination of various sorts under the guise of something wholesome, moral, and elite. 

This ensemble piece becomes a clear allegory for the entrapments of toxic masculinity and brainwashing religions rather quickly.  The juxtaposition between the verdant beauty of this camp's surroundings in contrast to the sheer ugliness of character displayed is poignant, directing a spotlight upon the constant hypocrisies shown throughout the film, all the while showing how distortedly groups like that see themselves.  There are some especially jarring moments of gun fetishization amidst the adults that pack a punch as well, bringing to the surface all of the violence and militarism associated with far-right wing conservative groups.  Since all of this is shown through the lens of these children at the camp, it feels particularly disturbing – most notably as the story progresses and it becomes more evident that they’ve fallen victim to the mentality that has been hammered away at them, culminating in some scenes reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, with a smattering of the Salem witch trials thrown into the mix.


This drama is made all the more impactful by the incredibly naturalistic performances of the young actors who play their parts perfectly.  The audience has no trouble sympathizing with the outcasts while feeling horrified by the behavior of the many bullies shown throughout the film.  There’s even enough nuance with some of the bullies to understand that they are behaving badly in order to fit in so they don’t become bullied themselves:  an all-too-common occurrence for many insecure children.  The only flaw with this film is that, despite hitting the nail on the head in many instances, it doesn’t feel fleshed out enough in others that count.  The few boys that the film emphasizes don’t always have satisfying story arcs, which makes the messages behind their stories fall flat in certain cases. 


Nevertheless, The Hole in the Fence is a fascinating psychological study of certain topics that will feel all too close to home for many.  It depicts people’s tendency to condemn or neglect “the other” in an unapologetically raw manner and explores the many dangers of this kind of herd mentality in a way that isn’t easily forgettable.

—Andrea Riley