MacGuffin Film Review – The Hole

Film Review – The Hole

I’m not a huge Joe Dante fan, but I like him just fine. I’ve seen The Howling five or six times, enjoyed Gremlins when I was young, and have recently been pleasantly surprised by The ‘Burbs. For the last year or so, I’ve been hearing from the U.T.  about a 2009 3D movie from Dante, entitled The Hole, but no U.T. release date has been set. The U.T. DVD is out already, so I went to Scarecrow Video and picked up a copy to see what all the non-hullabaloo is about.

The Hole is about a family of three, Mom (Teri Polo), teenage son Dane (Chris Massoglia), and younger son Lucas (Nathan Gamble), who move to Bensonville, which is just the latest stop after a series of moves. (Turns out there is a very bad dad in the wings.) Dane is not very happy about the situation, but cheers up a little when he meets attractive neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett). Lucas is a little loopy, but seems, at first, to be having an easier time with the situation.

Soon after their arrival at the new house, the boys discover a very deep hole in their basement, so deep they can’t figure out where it ends. When Julie learns about the hole, she suggests that it may be a passageway to Hell. Pretty soon some very unpleasant things come out to visit our protagonists: a creepy clown doll, a little girl who weeps blood (and looks like she just escaped from The Ring) and a menacing, shadowy figure. What these things are and where they come from are the mysteries the film attempts to solve.

According to Joe Dante, the reason why The Hole has not been released in the U.T. is because there are so many 3D blockbuster movies being released right now, there is no room for a smaller film with a lesser-known cast. People say a lot of things about their own movies, but this seems a plausible reason for the film not being released here yet. I’d add to this, though, and state that this might be a hard film to market. It’s a family film with a fairly narrow target: tweens and younger teens. The scares are a little too much for a young child, but an older teen who has already seen horror films like Scream, or a big-budget family film like The Goonies, might be underwhelmed by both the story and effects.  This is a lower budget movie and it shows. Even so, it certainly deserves a U.T. release. My husband and I watched it together, and we both enjoyed it.

For the most part, the young actors are engaging, and I have a soft spot for actress Teri Polo, who plays the mom. As an adult, I didn’t find the film to be terribly frightening, but there were a couple of scenes when I did jump a little. (There was one scene involving a video the kids took that creeped me the hell out.) There is a large element of psychological horror to this movie, which makes the reveal more satisfying, and I could see the right aged kid really digging it.

On the negative side, a lot of what could be scarier isn’t, because of the attitudes of the kids, which is both an issue with the script and the acting (or perhaps the direction the actors were given). The neighbor Julie hardly seems surprised that there is a possible doorway to Hell next door. She takes the whole thing in stride with a shrug. The older brother, Dane, keeps leaving Lucas alone when crazy stuff is happening, telling him to stay put. Turns out, it’s not a good idea—an obviously not good idea. So obvious that it is frustrating. There is just a little too much insouciance regarding a possible doorway to Hell in this movie, and it’s really annoying. The Hole is not funny in the same way that Gremlins is, and this light tone is somewhat jarring. I can see wanting to create a less scary atmosphere in order to broaden the age range of the viewers, but I don’t think this was the right way to do it. I think it makes the events that happen not matter so much, which mutes the emotional resonance of the movie and lessons the impact of the resolution.

The DVD version of the film is a little underwhelming in its visual presentation and special effects. The release I saw was in 2D, and it’s hard to know how much of the movie’s clunkiness is due to unrealized effects. This is not one of those movies that looks equally good in 2 and 3D, I’m guessing. (For example, I only recently realized that Dial M for Murder was supposed to be in 3D, and have seen it eight or nine times.) Aside from the usual shots of things coming towards the screen, there are a couple of real effects misfires that took me completely out of the story (a not-so-gory head wound and the set for the final action scenes looked super cheap). I’d really like to have the chance to see this in 3D, even though I’m not much of a 3D person, just to get a sense of what it is supposed to look like. Although, honestly, I just wish it had all been done in 2D. It might have had a release date by now. Like I said, I don’t LOVE Joe Dante, but he’s a real filmmaker. I’m tired of remakes, sequels, and look-a-likes; I want to watch something by someone who cares about the movie they are making. Even a lesser Joe Dante movie is better than a lot of what is being made for young people today.

The Hole is not a perfect film, but it’s an honest one. There is no false sentimentality common to a lot of family movies, the plot makes sense, and there are enough scares to make this a fun family view. I’d like to see if it holds up better visually in 3D, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. If you can’t wait for a release date that may never come, there are some international versions available at online retailers, or you could rent it from a brick-and-mortar store (like Scarecrow Video) that has an adventurous selection.

Final Grade: B

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