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The Hole

2009 | 92 min | PG-13 | 1.85:1

The Hole


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Theatrical release date

 28 September, 2012
 22 September, 2010

Country of origin

 United States



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The Hole


Screenshots from The Hole Blu-ray

The Hole Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, September 27, 2012

The particulars of film distribution have kept “The Hole” from American eyes for quite some time now. Originally shot in 2008 and released in Europe in 2009, the feature finally makes its way west for reasons that aren’t immediately clear, but I’m grateful regardless. The latest from director Joe Dante, “The Hole” is a modest production with a hearty sense of scare, tunneling into the psyche to find a human source of terror to compliment the monsters that occasionally pop into view during the picture. Entertaining, with a welcome sense of mischief, “The Hole” plays to Dante’s strengths, returning him to a suburban battleground where young characters face off against an unstoppable, often knee-high malevolent force.

Moving from Brooklyn into bland suburbia, Dane (Chris Massoglia) and younger brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble) are stuck with each other, struggling with residue discomfort from a history of abuse at the hands of their jailed father. While mom Susan (Teri Polo) immediately returns to work, the brothers are left to entertain themselves, sparking up a friendship with neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett). Horsing around in their basement, Dane and Lucas discover a locked hatchway into the ground, quickly opening up the mysterious door to inspect its contents. Instead of riches, the boys find a bottomless hole that unleashes a puzzling evil spirit, bent on tormenting the trio by preying on their fears of loss and, in Lucas’s case, clown dolls. Haunted by ghosts and toys, the trio look to the town nut and previous homeowner, Creepy Carl (Bruce Dern), for answers, hoping to figure out how to seal the hole for good.

Although far removed from the budgets and power Dante enjoyed while making movies such as “Gremlins,” “Innerspace,” and “Explorers,” “The Hole” remains a convincing young adult horror story, allowing the filmmaker to return to familiar creative ground after his last effort, 2003’s “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” failed to fuel a resurgence of interest in an animated franchise. Back to his gifts working with teen actors and crafty visual effects, Dante finds a suitable tone for the feature, merging juvenile interests in sibling torment and cute girls with darker territory, using the hole’s abyssal mystery to manage numerous macabre interactions with bleeding ghosts and a special clown doll that has its eye on Lucas, much to the discomfort of the boy. It’s “Goosebumps” with a slightly sharper edge, generating a handful of creepy scenes that emphasize disjointed movement and dimly lit stalking.

There’s also a playful side to “The Hole,” feeding into Dante’s hand-rubbing sense of humor. Best is the clown doll business, which is sold with skillful puppetry that recalls the more impish moments of “Gremlins,” watching the toy full-out attack Lucas during a basement tour, creating a film highlight in the ongoing war between child and plastic. Additional fright scenes involving an afternoon of swimming and a visit to an abandoned glove factory to meet Creepy Carl also bring some atmosphere to the spare production, adding tension to a story that doesn’t always offer the tightest grip. Dante keeps his camerawork fluid and his interest in shenanigans high, assisted by three bright performances from the lead actors, who carry themselves with a certain degree of cinematic exaggeration, but it’s nothing that spills over into obnoxiousness.

“The Hole” sobers up during its finale, literally plunging into profound psychological issues of physical abuse and parental threat while chasing around a dreamscape representing the depths of the titular purgatory. It’s not an especially persuasive conclusion, dragging off into a wildly different tonal direction, yet Dante keeps to the task at hand with confidence, working to make his limited coin come across as a comfortable budget. It’s a flawed film, yet “The Hole” remains lively enough to satisfy, sustaining Dante’s feistiness for another picture. While the feature took forever to reach America, I hope it’s not another eternity before we see a new Joe Dante movie.

Starring: Chris Massoglia, Nathan Gamble, Haley Bennett, Teri Polo, Bruce Dern, Quinn Lord
Director: Joe Dante

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