Directed by Joe Dante
Distributed by Big Air Studios
As someone who grew up on a steady diet of Joe Dante between films like Explorers, Gremlins 1 & 2, The Burbs, The Howling and Innerspace, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that it’s been almost 10 years since we saw the iconic filmmaker’s work on the big screen (the dismal Looney Toons: Back in Action sequel in 2003 being Dante’s last theatrical bow).
Thankfully, Dante’s latest The Hole is a return to form- while it certainly doesn’t capture Dante’s darkly comedic flair as much as the previously named classic films do, this family-friendly fright flick has its own sense of mischief and offers up enough entertainment to keep younger audiences enthralled while giving adult horror fans a flawed but fun look at the human psyche and what happens when your worst nightmares come to life.
At the start of The Hole we’re introduced to teenager Dane (Chris Massoglia) and his younger brother, Lucas (Nathan Gamble), who are stuck moving from Brooklyn to suburbia with only each other to rely on. Both kids are struggling with a history of abuse at the hands of their jailed father, and their now single mom, Susan (Teri Polo), is forced to put work ahead of her kids in order to make a better life for them all.
Left to entertain themselves in the final days of summer vacation, Dane and Lucas make nice with their new neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett), and one day while horsing around in their basement like kids often do, Dane and Lucas discover a locked door in the ground hidden away and latched shut for good measure. Undeterred by the numerous locks keeping the door shut, the boys find a way to break it open, only to find a mysterious bottomless hole waiting for them.
What they don’t realize at first is that by opening the door, the trio have just unleashed an evil spirit hellbent on tormenting them by preying on their worst fears- for Lucas it’s clown dolls; for Julie it’s a childhood friend who died and for Dane it’s a demonic version of his abusive father. Forced to deal with these nightmares come to life, the kids track down the previous homeowner and local lunatic, Creepy Carl (the always fantastic Bruce Dern), in search of answers on how to seal the hole and put an end to the evil spirit’s reign of terror for good.
While a much “simpler” movie than many of his earlier exploits, Dante seems right at home in The Hole, once again capturing the banality of suburbia and wonder of what happens when you invite a malevolent force into such a world in this lively young adult horror story. As someone who’s always had great success while working with younger actors and wildly inventive material, Dante once again finds similar success in The Hole, merging juvenile concerns with darker stories, making for an experience akin to watching teen genre series like “Goosebumps” or “Are you Afraid of the Dark?” but with far edgier material.
And while the clown doll that stalks Lucas and the creepy little girl haunting Julie are certainly your usual fare in tales like these, Dante takes things one step further emotionally in The Hole with the inclusion of Dane and Lucas’ abusive father being the older brother’s tormenting force throughout the flick. It’s rare to see someone approach the idea of child abuse in a “family film,” but Dante handles the subject matter unflinchingly but never exploitatively. We hear some stuff, and clearly these kids have been through the ringer, but Dante never dwindles too long on it as it would have dragged down the playfulness of his usual approach.
Unfortunately, this is also where The Hole hits a few road bumps; Dante does go all out in his third act when he makes his trio of protagonists face down all their fears, and that’s when the film loses a bit of its spark- the tone shifts greatly, and things go a bit more serious, which feels disjointed considering the tone of the story beforehand. While I appreciate The Hole getting deep on us (there’s nothing worse than a kids’ movie that talks down to its audience), plunging viewers right into this deep psychological abyss of children dealing with abusive parental figures is pretty much the ultimate terror any child can face. This changes the landscape of The Hole, and the story gets heady and over-dramatic briefly, but thankfully Dante finds his way back and brings the story full circle, finishing as strongly as he starts, making The Hole one of his best efforts in decades.
In terms of the Blu-ray and DVD, each shares the same special features, which are comprised of three quick featurettes that are home to your basic stuff like interviews, etc. Certainly nothing to write home about. Image-wise the Blu-ray gets the edge and looks pretty stellar, but we should be used to this by now. A 3D transfer would have been nice since the movie was shot in that style, but alas, it’s not to be.
While The Hole is a modest production in comparison to his earlier efforts, Dante serves up younger viewers a hearty sense of scare and fun in his latest, tunneling deep into the childhood psyche that gives us both human monsters and creatures to fear. It may not be his best effort, but it’s good to see Dante back behind the camera with his always welcome sense of mischief since his storytelling approach has always been unique even in comparison to his Master of Horror peers- here’s hoping we don’t have to wait almost another 10 years before Dante’s next feature.
3 out of 5
2 out of 5