In today’s culture, it seems every movie aims to be “meta”. But none have pulled off the film-within-a-film structure with such grace, intrigue, and prowess as Dean Kavanaugh’s Hole in the Head.
This independent feature follows John Kline Jr, a part-time projectionist and amateur filmmaker, as he attempts to recreate his home movies in order to investigate his parents' unsolved disappearance 25 years earlier. If the film seems dark, that’s because it is. Hole in the Head “proposes a hauntological discourse on autofiction, trauma, and private ritual”. But these darker undertones are what make the film, providing a complex narrative and vivid world for the viewer to immerse in.
Although there are grave undertones, the film impeccably balances an innate sense of humor as well. Comedic timing is infused throughout the screenplay and lands beautifully thanks to the performances of the cast in addition to the successful rhythm of the editing. Like laughing at a funeral, the humor is a way to offset the dark material and take the edge off a fraught scenario. But one thing Kavanaugh assures, is that the audience is never laughing at the protagonist. Though John is an abnormal character, the laughter arises from the tension between the character and his situation. This interplay between grim and hilarity bollsters a strong foundation for the film, constantly keeping the audience engaged.
Shot in Ireland during the COVID lockdown, the actual filming of Hole in the Head was as intimate as the film John is shooting in the story. With a small crew and strict restrictions, the actual production was “a huge undertaking, just because of the complexity of negotiating with the unknowns of the lockdown”. But the sheer determination of the film team shines through, as they shot on location in a house for nine days without hot water, entertainment, or contact with the outside world. According to director Dean Kavanaugh, it “felt like therapy - I’m sure they all needed it after that”. The crew even forged fake documents to show to patrol officers as they traveled from location to location to film for the project. While one may think this a bit drastic, the landscapes that make up the film are integral to the worldbuilding and cinematography of the piece. A collage of the whole of Ireland, Hole in the Head is composed of diverse locations all forging together to generate a setting that feels like the protagonist’s backyard. For Kavanaugh, who has worked in the film industry for more than 15 years and is familiar with limited funds and resources, the locations were the main production value of the film - and it shows. The rolling hills and striking colors of the exterior contrast perfectly with the jewel-toned chambers of the interior scenes.
Yet the real star of the film is the mixed media. A masterful wielding of analog vs digital technologies, the changing frames and mediums visually stimulate the viewer for the entirety of the film. Kavanaugh is fond of mixed media - especially as a film technician and archivist himself - and has utilized various formats throughout his career. However, Hole in the Head is “a tapestry of all of these legacy formats”, weaving a style that holds texture narratively, visually, and sonically. The prospect of digitizing these tactile film techniques while simultaneously honoring their separate histories is grand, but it is this challenge that attracts Kavanaugh to mixed media. Interchanging between one and the other creates a conflict in its own right, further enriching the narrative of the film.
Hole in the Head is a film-within-a-film-within-a-film that will leave audience members silently reeling after viewing. Come for a visually stunning dark comedy and stay for a portrait of identity, trauma, and mankind that will stay with you for time to come.
Hole in the Head screens at the Fall 2023 New Jersey Film Festival on Friday, September 22. The film will be Online for 24 Hours and In-Person at 7 PM in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ. Tickets are available for purchase here.