Review: The Hole

Aka: The Hole 3-D
Film review
Directed by Joe Dante
Starring Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble, Teri Polo, Bruce Dern

Teenager Dane Thompson (Massoglia), his younger brother Lucas (Gamble) and their mother Susan (Polo) move to a new house in the sleepy town of Bensonville. Once there, the brothers and their neighbour Julie (Bennett) discover a seemingly bottomless hole in their basement…

“You’ve got a gateway to hell under your home. That is really cool!” cries Dane’s new crush Julie as she realises just what it is they’re dealing with. The line sums up the appeal of The Hole: this is a proper scary movie that’ll have kids of all ages jumping out of their seats and grinning like a loon at the same time.

Joe Dante was the pioneer of the dark kids’ pic with 1984’s Gremlins, and at times The Hole feels like a descendant of that film – one mischievous clown puppet could almost be a Gremlin in disguise. But then Dante’s films have always been packed with in-jokes and homages, and The Hole also nods its head at everything from The Innocents to A Nightmare on Elm Street. Even the premise is reminiscent of the 1987 Dante-influenced flick The Gate.

Yet this isn’t just about frights and FX; in fact the big set pieces don’t really materialise until the third act. For this is as much a character piece as anything else, and the horror is rooted firmly in childhood and teenage fears.

Dante and screenwriter Mark L. Smith (Vacancy) have created a set of strong, believable young heroes to rival those of Explorers and Small Soldiers. Dane and Lucas feel like genuine brothers who spend most of their time fighting, trading insults and winding each other up. Dane’s awkward flirting with Haley, too, feels cringe-inducingly believable. The engaging youthful cast are joined by a typically crackers Bruce Dern as a lightbulb-fixated crackpot and Meet the Parents’ Teri Polo as their sensitive, struggling mother. Oh, and this being a Joe Dante movie, there’s naturally room for a brief Dick Miller cameo.

The Hole is something of a rarity these days: a clever children’s fantasy film with a heart. It could easily have been too scary for kids and too childish for adults – and for some maybe that will prove to be the case. But if you’re a kid with a taste for the dark side, or an adult who was raised on Dante’s earlier gems, this is a wonderfully endearing alternative to such bland and bloated spectacles as Prince of Persia. Matt McAllister

VERDICT: 8/10
Along with the evil Santa pic Rare Exports, The Hole heralds the return of the colourful kids’ horror. It’s not just for kids though: if you grew up on films like The Goonies, Gremlins and The Gate, you’ll love it.

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