The arrival of the family-friendly horror adventure ‘The Hole’ on the big screen in 2012 is rather puzzling considering that the movie was originally shot in 2008 (with a European release in 2009). Anyhow, fans of filmmaker Joe Dante (‘The Howling’, ‘Gremlins’, ‘Explorers’, ‘Small Soldiers’, ‘The ‘Burbs’) will get re-acquainted with his latest narrative that routinely explores suburbia and the manufactured scares that underline that domestic utopia.
In many ways, ‘The Hole’ is a welcomed throwback to the nostalgic filmmaking style where quaint family-oriented frightfests were a dime a dozen in the 1980s. Now that Dante’s suspenseful gem has reached American shores aided by 3D special effects, the atmospheric tension will be even more enhanced in this charming teen thriller. Thankfully, ‘The Hole’ is simplistic and does not resort to cheapened exploits to broaden its gentle chilly appeal. Maybe Dante’s kiddie caper plays it safe for most die-hard horror fans looking for some sure fire heft. Still, ‘The Hole’ has a nostalgic nudge to it that makes it kid-friendly as a lightweight horror show.
With Dante’s easy-flowing direction and screenwriter Mark L. Smith’s impish script, ‘The Hole’ is occasionally dipped in its dark moments while expressing some innocuous wit and moody thrills. New Yorker Susan (Teri Polo, ‘Meet The Parents’) and her two children Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) move to small town USA. Supposedly, Susan and the boys look forward to a new beginning in the aftermath of dealing the abusive nature of the youngsters’ imprisoned father. As Susan returns to work, Dane and Lucas are left to entertain themselves and adjust to the comfort of their new tranquil surroundings.
Gradually the siblings loosen up a bit, as they try to assimilate within the neighborhood. They even strike up a friendship with the neighboring Julie (Haley Bennett) as she joins them. Soon, the trio decides to hang out in the basement for kicks. Surprisingly, they discover a padlocked trapdoor. Naturally, it would not be a horror movie cliché if the young people did not open the trapdoor out of sheer curiosity and foolishness. After prying open the trapdoor, the threesome encounters an ominous bottomless hole that reaches to the unknown depths in the ground. Julie’s timely quip sums up the mysterious hole in her revelation, ‘You’ve got a gateway to hell under your house, and that is really cool.’
Apparently, Julie spoke too soon about the hole and its so-called coolness but she is correct about the hellish part. Unleashed from the dark and dank earthly opening are head-scratching evil-minded vibes that begin to haunt teenagers Dane and Julie and the much younger Lucas. Deceptively, these wicked spirits impose their warped will on the kids while clouding and tapping in their vulnerabilities. The ghostly influences are controlling the toys. In addition, it is feeding on the embedded fears of the youngsters. In particular, little Lucas is traumatized by clown dolls. The question remains: how can Dane, Lucas and Julie rid themselves of the demonic hole and its insidious impact?
Eccentric old coot Creepy Carl (Bruce Dern) is probably the source that can provide the answers for the children as to how they can tackle the haunting hole because he had once owned the home that Dane and Lucas now reside, perhaps he can advise them how to close up the hole permanently? Granted that Creepy Carl is an erratic nutcase around town but he is deemed instrumental as the authority on the threatening basement with the hellish hole as its ferocious feature.
Overall, ‘The Hole’ maintains a consistent and solid psychological block where the chilling mystery is effectively drawn. Dante adequately captures the angst-ridden and anxious tendencies of his young protagonists and incorporates modern-day suburbia as a playground for unassuming hysteria. Shadowy monsters, feisty twitches and the eerie presence of a come-to-life jester clown doll all add up to the surrealistic boundaries of this family fare fright fable.
Try filling in this particular Hole but be warned…falling in may actually be an enjoyable goosebump venture into this Dante’s inferno.
The Hole (Hole LLC)
1 hr. 32 mins.
Starring: Haley Bennett, Chris Massoglia, Nathan Gamble, Teri Polo, Bruce Dern, Quinn Lord
Directed by: Joe Dante
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: Kids & Family/Mystery & Suspense/Horror
Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars).