Film: The Hole ***
Release Date: 17th January 2011
Director: Joe Dante
Starring: Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble
Genre: Family Horror
Studio: Entertainment One
Rumour has it, visionary director, Joe Dante (Gremlins, Innerspace, Small Soldiers), only took on The Hole after uncovering a bottomless pit in the basement of his new home. Exploring the mysterious cavity, he soon discovered that his deepest fear and darkest nightmare was coming to life. Without hesitation, he slammed the trapdoor shut, bolting it securely, and Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) was confined to the dark abyss forever. After licking his wounds (for way too long) Dante is back with another one of those family-friendly chillers he mastered during the eighties.
Dane, played with likeable ease by Chris Massoglia (The Vampire’s Assistant) discovers the bottomless hole with his brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble) when left alone in their new residence by their workaholic mother. Along with Julie (Haley Bennett), the drop-dead gorgeous next door neighbour, the boys must uncover the home’s haunted history if they are to stop evil being unleashed (and no, we’re not still talking about a carrot-munching bunny and that annoying yellow canary)…
For the first half of the film, Dante tries the trusted approach and keeps the monsters off-screen, suggesting the unthinkable lurks beneath, allowing his characters to breed empathy by just being themselves. It’s fun too, whether we’re witnessing Dane lusting over the neighbouring water nymph or Lucas annoying him like all little brothers should. Obviously, there’s room for a little creepy foreshadowing, and Dante delivers with a subtle yet spooky scene when the gang are reviewing the footage they shot moments earlier.
It’s in the horror where The Hole excels; confronting the kids with evidence of their fears such as a broken-boned child made over-familiar by the Ringu trilogy or a toy clown stalking the attic and going for a swim as if he’s Chucky’s long lost midget father somehow manages to work, even if we’ve seen it all a thousand times over. The latter is especially scary, even when Dante does the unthinkable and allows the creature to talk. It’s been argued that The Hole is the perfect introduction to scare-starved tweenies, and it probably is, but even for massive horror junkies there's enough going on to warrant plenty of interest, so it’s a shame that when the real villain of the piece finally reveals itself, disappointment is dragged further than the rusty belt it’s carrying.
The performances of the actors equally disappoint as the film develops; Massoglia and Bennett are rarely threatened, with the latter disappearing entirely during the finale, and her inability to convey fear at the pivotal moment frustrating to say the least. I don’t care who you are, hanging precariously over the edge of the highest point of a disused rollercoaster ride is enough to muster a slight grimace, surely? And yet Dante saves the best, or worst, until last, with a final battle lacking any kind of tension whatsoever. It may have looked pretty in 3D, but without the technology, the scene almost ruins all the good that came before it.
Of which there is refreshingly plenty, even if its difficult to put a finger on what keeps us entertained for so long. Snappy dialogue helps (“Most people move out of Bensonville, not in it”), as do genuinely eerie moments involving a swimming pool, a bathroom cubicle and the Gremlins-inspired assault in the attic - welcome respite from a slightly plodding midway point. Meanwhile, the gorgeous visuals, especially when the otherworld is finally explored, with it’s bent-out-of-shape buildings and gothic surroundings, are as pleasing on the eye as the by now to-be-expected cameo by Dick Miller (which is actually also a little disappointing, truth be told).
You can probably see where this review is headed. Fear not though, because although Dante lazily relies on heavy nods to past horrors in order to send chills down our backs, he also manages a few neat tricks of his own, and more importantly, creates such likeable characters that we would probably watch them snarf every film directed by Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, back to back, and still enjoy the ride. It might even give Bennett reason to grimace.
Plenty of holes to pick at, but Dante is thankfully back on form with a film that will satisfy children mostly, yet with enough panache to maybe send a chill or two down the backs of even the hardened horror fanatics. Either way, you’ll certainly be entertained.