The Hole (2012)

8 Mar

Joe-Dantes-The-Hole-Now-Scaring-Up-Thrills-in-Theaters-and-on-DVD

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Why Joe Dante’s “The Hole” didn’t get a US theatrical release is totally beyond me. Let’s look at the facts: Joe Dante directed this movie, as well as “Gremlins” and “Small Soldiers,” and I’m sure he still has some mainstream status today. What these movies have in common is the fun way they bring terror with a certain whimsy to what seems like our world. Audiences like that—“Gremlins” was a box-office hit and was also received positively by critics, and “Small Soldiers” did fine too. Are we just supposed to assume that it wouldn’t work again with “The Hole” and that’s why it’s facing difficulty with US distribution?

Also, the film was shot in 3D. Studios are fearless of advertising and releasing “The Nutcracker in 3D” while “The Hole (in 3D)” is left in the shadows? That’s kind of hard to believe. I mean, give props to not releasing “The Hole” as just a 3D gimmick, but now look at this little detail: this movie got a positive reception at the Toronto Film Festival and won the “Best 3D Film” award at 2009’s Venice Film Festival, beating “Up” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D.” What more is there to convince studio executives that…I don’t know, maybe “The Hole” should be released?

Well, someone was convinced and it, in fact, did get a theatrical release…in the UK. D’oh!

OK now that that’s all said, let me review “The Hole.” I didn’t see it in a cinema, and so I didn’t see it in 3D. (It was finally released to DVD in October 2012, after a short-lived limited release in select theaters.) But the 3D is not missed. The truth of the matter is that “The Hole” is a treat—a fun, appealing, and even scary family-horror film. Like most good ones of this genre, younger kids may be scared by a lot of the material on screen, but older ones will most likely be delighted and parents will most likely be entertained as well.

The hole in the title refers to a seemingly bottomless pit in the basement of a suburban house in a small town called Bensonville. The original owner was an old man who is now reclusive, lives in an abandoned factory, and is given the name “Creepy Carl” by all the kids in town. The new owners are a single mother (Teri Polo) and her two sons—seventeen-year-old Dane (Chris Massoglia, “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant”) and ten-year-old Lucas (Nathan Gamble, “The Mist”)—who move around a lot for a mysterious reason that involves the past (not giving anything away).

Dane is bummed—of course, what teenage boy isn’t bummed about moving into a new house? But there is one good thing about this move: Julie (Haley Bennett), the smokin’-hot next-door neighbor whom Dane has his eye on. But the little smart aleck Lucas humiliates him in front of her, causing Dane to chase him into the basement, where they both find a strange door in the floor with six locks keeping it shut. They open the locks and look in the hole. This hole seemingly has no end to it. The boys drop a bucket of nails into it and never hear them drop. They tie a paint can to fishing line and the whole rod unreels. And then, they tie a doll to a rope and…something inside the hole grabs hold of it. What’s going on here?

As the boys bring Julie in on their discovery, strange things start to happen: They lower a video camera into the hole and a strange eye is seen. Ghosts and monsters come out of the hole to scare the kids. A creepy jester clown puppet comes to life and attacks Lucas.

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The setup of “The Hole” is fun, as the kids experiment with the “gateway to hell” in the basement. They even meet the so-called “Creepy Carl” (Bruce Dern) in a room with a dozen light bulbs surrounding him, to protect himself from the “darkness.” Later on though, the movie gets more interesting. Without giving away the secret of the hole, it causes the kids to confront their own pasts and conquer their fears. What makes “The Hole” interesting is that it’s more of a coming-of-age tale than a horror film. There are scares, but story and characters come first. There’s a sense of who these kids are and how they’ll grow in their misadventures with the hole.

The three young actors aren’t strangers to strangeness. Chris Massoglia traveled with a freak show as a half-vampire in “Cirque du Freak,” Haley Bennett was the protagonist of a much-lesser horror film called “The Haunting of Molly Hartley,” and Nathan Gamble encountered giant bugs in “The Mist.” All three are appealing here, but it’s Nathan Gamble that really stands out as the irrepressible but likable little brother.

“The Hole” isn’t a great horror film. Some of the choices the kids make are kind of dumb, like Dane and Lucas not telling their mother about the strange happenings. And also, the ending is not the right one—it’s supposed to resolve all that happened before, but it just feels like an anticlimax. But for the most part, “The Hole” is an entertaining movie with an intriguing story and some good scares along with likable characters to root for. And it still makes me wonder what it takes to get this film a US distribution, and how long it ultimately took.

NOTE: The MPAA rated this movie a PG-13 rating. After the PG-rated “Monster House” and “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” the MPAA is starting to understand that certain family-horror movies are likely to frighten younger kids—this one included.

ANOTHER NOTE: Or maybe they just rated it a PG-13 rating due to certain profanities like the “s” word.

THIRD AND FINAL NOTE: Every film directed by Joe Dante features an appearance by Dick Miller. Watch out for him as a pizza delivery guy in this movie.

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