Symbolism weighs heavy in every minute of the always involving but too obvious and much too harsh Mexican film “El hoyo en la cerca” (“The Hole in the Fence”).

Written by Lucy Pawlak and Joaquin del Paso and directed by del Paso, this is a disturbing film that examines the social inequity of modern Mexico through a youth camp where the counselors and kids are straddling a world of violence and religion; for many, one in the same.

A group of adolescent boys attends a privileged private school in the Mexican countryside. Classist bullying and lecherous counselors abound, as the violence of the neighboring towns erupts daily, just outside the deceptively protective fencing.

Was the fence constructed to keep out the gunfire and danger just outside of the camp or is it there to exist as a trap that holds the young boys close to their teachers/counselors/captors? There is something menacing beyond the fence, but what is brewing inside of the compound is a more present and dangerous darkness.

The film shows already fragile young souls losing their innocence in varied ways. Limits are tested while the adults in charge cannot be trusted to have the boys’ best interests at hand.

While there are moments of “The Hole in the Fence” that work, the screenplay is heavy handed and the filmmakers almost fetishize the abuse of these children. The picture’s observations too often lapse into mere commentary rather than drama and actions are dictated by the screenplay’s intentions rather than authentic motivations. Characters are introduced with little to no backstory to help viewers become emotionally involved in their plights. There is no development for these kids or the adults in charge, which hurts the picture as a whole.

The point is made early. The rest of the running time becomes a repetitious hammer, driving the message home over and over. That said, what the film examines is important. I am sure there was a better cinematic way to put it all together.

Director del Paso slowly reveals the boys’ mental and physical abuse at the hands of the teachers/counselors and the class-based student-on-student viciousness. The film’s pacing helps the “Lord of the Flies”-esque violence in the final act hit harder and one shocking murder to the revulsion in the myriad of ways these boys are robbed of their innocence.

Del Paso knows how to create tension, but dwells on the brutality of the piece. It is never a good thing to watch children in serious peril. For a film and its creator to linger on it overpowers the dramatic impact, becoming too unsettling to take.

Alfonso Herrera Salcedo’s cinematography is a highlight and immerses the audience in an unrelentingly eerie aura. The atmospheric tone is completed by the haunting electronic score from Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein.

Ripe with the real-world terrors of religious indoctrination and elitism, “The Hole in the Fence” is a disturbing tale that can be experienced as a coming-of-age/social-horror picture. I wish the filmmaker had found an even balance of message and presentation.

The film certainly has many flaws, but can be occasionally gripping; its failure is that it ultimately goes too far.

The powerful and timely message becomes buried in unrelenting savagery.


The Hole in the Fence

Written by Lucy Pawlak & Joaquin del Paso

Directed by Joaquin del Paso

Starring Valeria Lamm, Eric David Walker, Yuba Ortega, Lucciano Kurti

NR, 104 Minutes, Amondo Films