The Hole (2009)
Joe Dante is a personal hero of mine. No, he didn’t save my family from a burning building, but he provided my youth with some seriously awesome & inspirational work: Piranha, The Howling, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Gremlins 1 & 2, Innerspace, The ‘Burbs, Small Soldiers and – my favourite TV programme in my teens – Eerie, Indiana (he directed five episodes, all of which were superb).
Unfortunately for Dante the late 90’s and 2000’s (I’m not calling them the noughties!) was not as kind to him. He focused on some pretty awful TV movies and – rather absurdly – directed Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and with the exception a couple of reasonable episodes of Masters of Horror, Joe Dante disappeared from the realm of lightly amusing horror / comedies.
Now three years old, it took me a long time to bother watching The Hole. Why? I thought it was a children’s film. With a 12 certificate, originally in 3D and featuring three annoying-looking kids on the poster, I remember the trailer made it look kooky-fun and entirely without scares. So I avoided it until recently, when I found it in HMV priced at a laughable £3. I thought “why not?” and picked up a copy. And was I glad? Well, I was pleasantly surprised… and utterly disturbed.
The set-up is simple. Brothers Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) arrive in the lifeless town of Bensonville, Illinois having upped-sticks from Brooklyn with mum Susan (Teri Polo). The move seems hasty and it’s clear they’re frequently jumping from house-to-house for some suspicious reason.
This new house, however, is different; the basement has a hole in it. Not a normal hole, though, but a bottomless pit of a place sealed with a trapdoor and six heavy-duty padlocks. So what do Dane and Lucas do when they discover it? Open it, of course.
The opening of the “hole” leads to some seriously disturbing things; most specifically a creepy little dead girl, a giant angry bloke and one of the most horrible clown puppets you’ll ever see. As Dane and Lucas realize they may’ve opened a gateway to hell, they team together with neighbour Julie (Haley Bennett) to defeat / escape / find out what-the-hell the hole really is…
If I had a 12 year old child I wouldn’t let them watch the hole. It doesn’t have any nudity, no one swears and it’s not exactly overflowing with the red stuff… but it’s fucking creepy. Seriously, dementedly creepy. I think this is why the initial reception in 2009 was so shrug-worthy and scathing; it’s not quite got a specific audience, age wise, and sits somewhere between teenager and adult… but also feels like a family film in places!
Dante has always had a great way of combining chills but keeping it light. Everything from Gremlins to Small Soldiers has a strange mixture of charm and darkness to it and The Hole has this in bucketloads. And there’s a bizarre cameo from Bruce Dern, which is always welcome.
The script comes from the writer of the straight horror flicks Vacancy and Vacancy 2 and he delivers a decent amount of character-work and creepiness for the majority of The Hole. I mentioned the clown before and I’ll mention it again; it’s genuinely an effective and disturbing addition to the film. NIGHTMARES AWAIT.
Unfortunately the ending lets The Hole down significantly, smashing the “less is more” mantra in the face with a large dose of Burton-light effects that clearly pandered to the 3D crowd and end up looking like Beetlejuice meets Alice in Wonderland. It’s cartoony and totally unthreatening compared to what precedes it and – to be honest – it’s a huge shame and ruins the movie entirely.
Overall The Hole is a decent little film but it suffers from a lack of target audience and an inconsistent tone. Not scary enough to be a horror film, too scary to be a kids’ flick. It is worth watching for Dante fans, but expect to find the ending horribly horribly disappointing. Those hoping for a return to form for Joe Dante might have to wait a little longer.