The Hole

Director    Joe Dante
Starring    Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble, Teri Polo, Bruce Dern, Chord Overstreet
Release    9 OCT (US) 22 SEP (UK)    Certificate 12A
4 stars


4th October 2010

Gremlins. Explorers. The 'Burbs. If these movies mean anything to you then the idea of Joe Dante's return to the type of movies he used to make in the 80s will fill you with glee. Or perhaps, in 2010 should this kind of movie be left in the past?

It's impossible to review this film without dwelling in childhood nostalgia for Dante's earlier work, and similar suburban adventures of the 1980s, such as The Goonies. When you look at the films of today it's easy to see why - carefree childhood adventures like that just don't get made any more.

Family-orientated movies tend to be based on existing properties - the annual Harry Potter movie, or the occasional Narnia flick - and while these work on a fantastical level, such high-faluting escapism doesn't always connect on a personal level. But everyone has had a family of weirdos move into the neighbourhood and wondered what secrets they're hiding.

[gallery]In The Hole, Joe Dante brings horror back to the neighbourhood with the simple premise: what if there was a gateway to hell in your basement? There's an immediate attachment here that you just cannot get in a fantasy land. What's more, the three children involved here - Dane (Chris Massoglia), Lucas (Nathan Gamble) and Julie (Haley Bennett) - all act like real children. There's no attempt to make them über-cool or 'real' urban kids that speak street and act like they want to shank you in the eyeballs. Yeah, I'm down with their lingo.

The set-up is kept to a minimum: a family, consisting of working mother Susan (Teri Polo), teenager Dane and little brother Lucas, move to a generic small American town. While Susan is conveniently out, the boys befriend hot neighbour Julie. Together, they discover a trapdoor in the basement. They open it, peer in and realise that they've opened a gateway to hell, and unleashed their greatest fears.

It's a simple idea, but one that works well as it invites us to consider our own deepest, darkest worries. It's most effective with young Lucas, whose childlike fear we can all get behind - clowns. The Hole's clown, a puppet reminiscent of Poltergeist's own creepy puppet, features in some of the movie's best and most frightening scenes, as he terrorises poor Lucas. It's incredible to see more terror and suspense in a family-orientated movie like this than there is in a million Platinum Dunes horror remakes. Yes, there are the obvious jump-scares, but they're well done and effective because they're few and far between.

The movie is far from perfect - while the child cast all give fine performances the adult cast is largely uninspiring. Bruce Dern, as the house's former owner, Creepy Carl, is disappointing - his appearance too brief, its impact too ineffectual. (And couldn't they have come up with a better name than 'Creepy Carl'? It's a scientific fact that the name Carl cannot be in any way scary). Additionally, because Julie and Dane's fears are more personal, the audience cannot engage on the same level, and they come across as somewhat trite.

Given that this movie has pushed the 3D angle so far in promotion that people actually thought it was called The Hole In 3D (well, I did...), it's not as 'in your face' as it could have been. Young Lucas throws a baseball up and at the screen a few times, and the in-hole-looking-out shots were clearly designed with the 3D perspective in mind. Otherwise it neither adds nor detracts from the action a single iota. Yes it works, and it looks great, but there's way more depth to the movie than the 3D gimmick.

It seems strange to come out of a movie so riddled with clichés - much less one that's such an obvious throw-back to the 1980s - with an overwhelmingly positive feeling, but because this type of movie has been so lacking in recent years, it felt like a welcome return. Maybe one of the four stars above might be for nostalgia factor alone, but The Hole, in 3D or not, is a genuinely enjoyable 90 minutes. Keep it up Joe, we need more of this!

More:  The Hole  Joe Dante  3D
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