The Hole (2009*) Review (PG-13)

I put an asterisk on the release date in the blog entry title, because although this was shown in the US at the AFI film festival on Halloween in 2009. it’s never actually been distributed here. It was produced with Italian backing, although it’s really an American film with  the actors and crew being from the US (and the movie being an English language film). That’s a shame because this is a pretty good kids’ horror film.

Anyone who is a horror fan will know the name of director Joe Dante. He’s responsible for a number of great genre films, especially in the 1980s (Gremlins, The Howling, Innerspace, etc). He was a fan of B movies growing up and is very knowledgaable of the genre. He knows how they work and continues to pay homage to the great films of old. This is a ‘throwback’ film in a number of ways.

This is a film in the vein of 80s flicks that featured kids as the protagonists. They are portrayed as sophisticated and self aware; they actually act like kids… At least far more than in most contemporary films. There’s also not nearly as much cursing as I’m used to, even for a PG-13 film. That’s not to say that this is a tame film.

At its heart, it’s about fear (as a lot of children’s horror films are) and has some pretty good scares, especially early on. There is even some imagery and subject matter that probably propelled this from a PG to a PG-13 rating. For kids, some of the subtext may be a little scarier than what occurs at face value onscreen.

The movie begins with a single mom (Teri Polo) and her two sons moving into a new house. You find out that they’ve moved around quite a bit for some reason (that you’ll find out later). The youngest son, Lucas (Nathan Gamble), quickly finds that there’s something not right with the house… Or maybe it’s his childhood fears that are cropping up when he ventures into the basement. There’s some subtlety here.

There are a few seeds planted in the beginning that are not as obvious as to being important. An early conversation between the mother and her eldest son Dane (Chris Massoglia) sets up the heart of the story without tipping off the audience too much. She hints that Dane is beginning to have the kind of troubles common to teens. He’s starting to get a little rebellious, but is basically a good kid.

Dane is an artist (and can draw better as a high schooler than I can as an adult… @#!!*@!!). He soon notices the (very) pretty girl next door Julie (Haley Bennett) having a party with the ‘cool kids’ of the neighborhood. He stays at a distance until Lucas provides a reason for the initial meeting.

Lucas somewhat embarrassing his older brother in front of her leads to their discovering of a a locked trapdoor in their basement.

It’s covered by a rug and some old furniture. Naturally they have to find out what’s down there.

Here was the first of my minor quibbles… The previous owner, ‘Creepy Carl’ (Buce Dern) has moved away and obviously didn’t want anyone to find the trapdoor, but.. he left the keys. Okay, I said it was minor, because if they don’t open that trapdoor, then there’s no movie. I just think he should have taken the keys, so they’d at least have to pry it open. Anyway…

Of course, they open it, but not before their lovely neighbor also gets involved in finding out what’s in ‘The Hole’. There are no stairs or ladder and when they drop things into the dark hole below, it appears to be bottomless. Nothing appears supernatural or anything until after they close up the trapdoor and go about their normal business.

Then, Lucas begins seeing a weird Harlequin doll show up around the house. He thinks at first his brother is trying to scare him, but soon finds out otherwise.

Julie, meanwhile begins to have her own encounters. I thought the first was especially creepy.They all begin to realize that it must have something to do with the fact that they’ve opened this Pandora’s box.

And that’s the basic setup. The film IS flawed; and becomes more so as it goes along. The writer Mark Smith doesn’t completely capitalize on his groundwork laid at the beginning. The ending is somewhat of a letdown when compared to the first two acts. It does lead to what the film sets up as the showdown. I guess I just wanted… a little… more spectacle than I got. The story is pretty direct and stripped down to what’s necessary for the story. I usually complain about the meandering, but I think I might have wanted a little more here. Go figure.

Another thing that’s obvious to anyone who’s watched all of the bigger 80s genre films is that the entire story seems borrowed from different well known genre flicks… Dante’s own films like Gremlins and his Twilight Zone:The movie segment… Poltergeist is borrowed from quite liberally. The Fog. One of the segments from Cat’s Eye seems almost entirely lifted. The Goonies. Dreamscape. Just a large amount of referencing. Maybe it was on purpose. Dante did begin his career with Piranha, which was a sly wink at the success of Jaws. There are some cliches inherent in the kids’ horror sub-genre, too, like the convenient way of getting the mother out of the house when ‘stuff is going down’. But I don’t mind that.

For a horror flick aimed at the younger set, I think this a pretty good one. It has the feel of classic 80s kid flicks and I always enjoyed those. It may even succeed as much or more at capturing that  kind of tone that the recent Super 8 was seeking to rekindle. Even though I didn’t see this at the theatre I can see how they were playing up the 3D aspect. 3D rarely adds a whole lot in my mind anyway, just being a way to get an extra couple of bucks out of moviegoers.

The three main characters are engaging. Gamble, especially,  as the younger brother seems genuine, never striking me as a ‘movie kid’ who has the brain of an adult. He seems more like real world kids. Massoglia is great as the older brother/hero of the story. And not once did I say “That kid needs his @$$ kicked” as I often do watching films that feature teens. I liked the fact that Bennett’s Julie is given a lot more to do than just be the love interest. Her character is also a more realistic version of a teenage girl  than I usually see onscreen. Dante sees he for her brain instead of big screen jailbait. And Bruce Dern… I have often referred to him as possibly the worst big name actor in cinema history, but I have liked him in recent films like this and The Cake Eaters. He has a small role, but I wasn’t complaining about his weird wooden deliveries afterwards.

Dante film regular Dick Miller also shows up without a word as a pizza devivery guy. It may not be a classic, but for a kids’ horror flick, I enjoyed it. I think it’s Dante’s best film since Innerspace (Yes I think it’s better than Gremlins 2… I haven’t seen 1993’s ‘Matinee’, though). It’s just too bad no one in the US will see this.

4 of 5






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