Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett
pulls no punches in search of jumps, shocks and full on terror
The Hole (not to be confused with that Kiera-Knightly-is-briefly-topless thriller from 2001) is the first time Joe Dante's name has graced a marquee since the technically impressive but sadly misjudged Looney Tunes: Back in Action in 2003. Happily, it's a much more successful outing for the director, harnessing the child friendly terror he made his own in the 80s with brand new technology to great effect.
The first thing Dante and writer Mark L. Smith (who scribbled Vacancy and its DTV sequel) get right is the kids. There's nothing overly saccharine or romanticised about the siblings - Dane (Massoglia) is unhappy with the move to a small town and conflicted about the way his relationship with his father ended. Younger Lucas (Nathan Gamble) is trying to make it work but his frustrations surface from time to time and there's an overt physical antagonism between the boys which is tougher and more real than the genre norm. Bennett's Julie is a little less believable, wandering around in some unlikely clothing, but at least there's a little edge to her frequently bitchy comments.
The second important element is the scares. This film may be aimed at relative youngsters (PG-13 in the states, 15A here) but it pulls no punches in search of jumps, shocks and full on terror. Each character must face up to their greatest fear, giving the filmmakers full reign to explore everything from creepy clowns to J-horror worthy step-framing little girls. And by the evidence of my screening, it's clear that there are still plenty of people approaching middle age who are terrified of animated dolls. The film also heads into increasingly dark territory as the story progresses, taking a detour into themes of survivor guilt and domestic abuse which are more hard-hitting than you might expect.
It's a return to form then for Dante, only hampered by some occasionally cheap looking sets (like that of the finale) and the thin story. The central idea is hardly original and the narrative is incidental, serving to move us from one set piece to the next. A perfect example of this is the character of Creepy Carl (Bruce Dern), who presented a prime opportunity to build up the mythology of the hole from his dramatically lit hideaway but the moment is wasted. And while the film was thankfully shot for the format, most of the 3D effects are subtle and the unavoidable dip in light levels makes some scenes hard to discern.In Short:
The Hole is an artefact out of time - a genuinely scary horror film which reigns in needless gore to remain suitable for a younger audience without being condescending. The kids aren't annoying, the jumps aren't cheap and there's a refreshing willingness to explore some seriously dark territory.