The Hole (2009)
Director: Joe Dante
Writer: Mark L. Smith
Cast: Chris Massoglia, Nathan Gramble, Haley Bennett, Teri Polo
Website: The Hole 3D Official Site
If Joe Dante had never taken the steps that lead to an exemplary film career, there would be a huge void in my childhood. I can name a favorite Dante film for every cornerstone of my youth; whether sneaking viewings of Piranha and The Howling on cable when I was in grade school, or downing Mt. Dews during marathon sessions of Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Innerspace, and The ‘Burbs during high school, Mr. Dante’s work has always been there for me. When a new horror feature aimed at kids and directed by Dante was announced back in 2009, I was ecstatic. I anxiously waited for its release. I waited. And I waited. Though The Hole appeared to have a few scattered festival screenings, it didn’t pop up anywhere close to me.
I can only surmise that the distributor had a hard time figuring out what to do with the film. The Hole is a dark and scary film. Perhaps it’s a little too scary for the coddled pre-teen set, and maybe a bit too fantastical for jaded teens, both of which fall into the target age range. Adult filmgoers seemingly weren't part of the strategy, so the opportunities for lifelong fans to experience the film were slim. Anyone with an appreciation for Dante’s work obviously had to wait for DVD, on Demand, or in my case, Netflix instant watch.
The Hole is the story of Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gramble), two brothers who have moved from Brooklyn to the sleepy town of Bensonville along with their mother Susan (Teri Polo). The trio –their relationship strained by the wear and tear of constant moving - is fleeing an abusive father who is locked away in the penitentiary. With Susan gone most evenings to work a late hospital shift, the brothers must fend for themselves in a world of barely unpacked boxes and nightly pizza delivery. Along with their neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett) – on whom Dane harbors a crush – they happen upon a hatch in the basement closed up with many formidable locks. A cocktail of hormones and curiosity compels them to open the locks, finding a seemingly bottomless hole in the basement floor. Consequently, contact with the hole conjures their worst fears in the flesh.
Dante hits all the appropriate notes for a fantastic horror film aimed at intelligent young people. He’s not trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the things that scare kids; clowns, ghosts, small creepy things underneath the bed are all used effectively, and Dante expresses them with his standard odd camera angles and spooky color palette (nicely shot by cinematographer Theo van de Sande). An undercurrent of darker themes runs through the film making it less comedic than previous offerings. Parents looking for mindless escapism for their children may be surprised when the film sparks some lofty conversation with their youngsters.
Central to the film is family abuse, and though it’s not glossed over, Dante refrains from heavy handedness with this aspect. The Hole shares the most in common with Explorers, Gremlins, and Small Soldiers, huge events unfolding in the absence of parents who are too busy or too uninvolved to realize what’s going on with their children. An interesting dynamic is on display capitalizing on the age disparity between Massoglia’s and Gramble’s characters. The seventeen year old Dane barely rises above his teen angst to toss the football with the adoring eleven year old Lucas. It’s painful to see the disappointed look in Lucas’ face when he’s constantly turned down by Dane, who is obviously the boy’s father figure. Conversely, we see glimpses of Dane’s potential to follow in the footsteps of his abusive father. Dante does this with subtle moments of Dane’s casual roughness with his little brother. It isn’t until they discover the hole that the two form an ostensible brotherly bond.
I wouldn’t classify The Hole as a “return to form” for Mr. Dante, mostly because I don’t think he ever lost it. The Hole is engaging and suspenseful, and while it’s not the best in his oeuvre, he shows no signs of slowing down or dumbing down the material. Watching from home, I was deprived of the 3D experiencing touted during its very brief release, but I didn’t detect any awkwardness in the visuals that usually occurs when the 3D gimmick is removed from the equation. The heart of the film is in facing one’s fears head on, and the growth one achieves when resisting a supposed inevitable doom. In this case, a cycle of abuse can be broken even if it requires battling with erratically moving ghosts and creepy little puppets.
The Hole Trailer