The Hole in the Ground Review
There were big hopes for Lee Cronin’s The Hole in the Ground at this year's Sundance. Its attachment to A24 created a buzz that saw it hyped as another potential indie horror hit in the vein of last year’s Hereditary. While Ari Aster’s film had many of its own problems to overcome, the presence of Cronin’s debut effort at the Utah festival is pretty much the only comparison that holds upon closer inspection. It doesn’t take long for the film to fall into the same beats and predictable scare attempts seen in many of the lesser horror’s now crowding out the genre.
Sarah (Seána Kerslake) and her son, Chris (James Quinn Markey), have recently moved to rural location, leaving behind what appears to be an abusive husband and father (although never fully established). Chris is having problems making friends at his new school, and a couple of strange run-ins with their old neighbour, Noreen Brady (Kati Outinen), can only be described as bizarre. There are rumours she killed her own son some years before, and now spends most days standing in the middle of the road in her nightie speaking in tongues.
What Sarah didn’t seem to notice before she moved in was a strange, huge sinkhole located in the forest behind her creaky old house. When Chris runs off into the woods and disappears (Cronin using paper thin motivations to get him there), Sarah chases him and stumbles across the hypnotic hole. Chris suddenly reappears, but as the days pass by something seems to have changed. Is it all in Sarah’s mind, or is Chris an imposter?
Evil kids are nothing new in horror, but the idea of someone so young being a little demon is as fascinating as ever. Here the relationship between mother and child is tested, asking how well we know those closest to us. But like much of film, it barely gets beyond the surface and never establishes a clear view of what is going on inside Sarah’s head. There are paper thin questions about her mental state and past life, and it seems as if the title is merely a MacGuffin, until a rushed last act that suddenly remembers where it is.
Unlike The Babadook, which developed an intense and fractured bond between mother and son, the psychological aspect of Sarah and Chris' connection is largely left unexplored. The scares are raised through a number of tired clichés, and with very little exploration of the characters, there’s nothing to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Matters get more complicated later on with the inclusion of one or two twists that are from revelatory. There’s simply many unexplained plot holes that pose more questions than there are plausible answers.
There’s a decent film buried deep in here somewhere, but Cronin has not managed to translate it from the page onto the screen. Good work from DoP Tom Comerford (who shot last year’s excellent Michael Inside) ensures it remains pleasing to the eye, and gives this small budget release a polished feel that could make it appealing to a large audience. With next-to-no sense of fear or dread to creep you out, there’s very little chance this will play on your mind once the lights are turned out.
The Hole in the Ground opens in UK cinemas on March 1st.