DVD Review: The Hole

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MSRP $6.99
• The Keyholder (Keeper of The Hole)
• Relationships (Family Matters)
• Making of The Hole
• A Peek Inside The Hole
• Movie Stills
• Trailers

The Pitch

A throwback to Amblin Entertainment movies without all that JJ Abrams wankery.

The Humans

Joe Dante (Director), Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble, Teri Polo, Bruce Dern

The Nutshell

When Dane and his little brother Lucas move from the city to the suburbs, they’re in for a big surprise. Along with cute next door neighbor Julie, they unlock a trap door to a mysterious hole in their basement. Once opened, long buried secrets are unearthed and the three must confront their darkest fears in a fierce battle for survival!

The Lowdown

Remember when Super 8 came out, it was supposed to capture that good old feeling of classic kids adventure movies (particularly the Amblin Entertainment movies) like Flight of the Navigator, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, or E.T.? It didn’t do that. It kinda tried, but all it really managed to be was a big mess that aped the Spielberg style without actually getting what made those movies great in the first place. It isn’t what the story is, it’s how the story is told. For my money the closest thing to those adventure movies of the ‘80s to come out in recent years is The Spiderwick Chronicles (or as I refer to it, Troll 4.)

But Joe Dante was around in that era and has made that kind of movie several times with Explorers, Gremlins and its out-there sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Matinee, and Small Soldiers and he brings that old magic back for The Hole. Or rather he did bring it back, The Hole has been completed since 2009 but hasn’t gotten a proper release until recently.

The plot is typical of movies of this sort. A single mother, Susan, and her two sons move to a small town to start a new life. Susan just wants things to go well, the angsty teenage son Dane misses his friends and is bored, and younger son Lucas just wants his brother to not be such a wang. They mess around their new town for a while; Mom gets a boyfriend much to Dane’s disapproval. Dane falls for the cute neighbor girl Julie and they start hanging out. But the most interesting thing the boys find is a trapdoor in their basement locked with an absurd number of padlocks that leads to an apparently bottomless hole beneath their house. Soon the hole begins manifesting Dane, Julie, and Lucas’ darkest fears and they have to find a way to seal it up.

“Every word from my mouth shall be sarcastic and assholish.”

Cirque du Freak was an awful terrible movie and at the time I condemned the two leads (Chris Massoglia and Josh Hutcherson) to be the most awful actors ever. Josh Hutcherson has since turned my opinion around but Massoglia pretty much dropped off the map; however, what read as flat and boring in that movie works here. The Hole is more grounded in something resembling reality and Massoglia sounds and behaves like a normal teenage boy; his speech is quiet and a tad slurred, he has a bit of a stutter, he sounds like he’s trying to be cool without really knowing how he can do that. It’s genuine and in this case that works for the character. Nathan Gamble gives a similarly naturalistic performance ad Dane’s little brother Lucas. He’s a perfect sarcastic little brother and nothing about him seems false or insincere.

Teri Polo ties ties the boys together as their mother, Susan. Polo is most famous for her role as Pam, the girlfriend/wife from the “Fockers” trilogy; among that mugging dipshit circus she was largely unnoticed due to the fact that she was the only person playing an actual character, this movie is more in Polo’s wheelhouse. She sells the role of a single mother trying to get ahead in life and escape her rocky past whilst raising two children. Susan is not a showy role but it’s the warmth and humanity Polo brings to her character that makes the trio feel like a real family.

There have been innumerable amounts of characters like Jule in an innumerable amount of movies, horror or otherwise. Julie lives next door, she’s a foxy blond with a swimming pool just below the teen son’s window, our dopey hero is in love with her and the feeling is mutual. She is a carbon copy of a million similar characters, the most recent example I can think of is Disturbia. Actress Haley Bennett brings a realness and a charm to her character that elevates Julie beyond her blond hair and skinny frequently viewed body. It’s apparent that she returns Dane’s feelings toward her but their romance is practically a background plot point; it’s more her role as a friend to the boys that make her feel like she has an equal share of the protagonist spot. I expected another forgettable girl-next-door but was surprised to find out that Julie was my favorite character.

Bruce Dern has a very small role that, had he been alive, probably would have been played by longtime Joe Dante collaborator Kevin McCarthy. Dern plays “Creepy Carl”, the previous owner of the house where the hole resides. He lives in what can only be described as a “light fortress” accessed through steam tunnels in an abandoned glove factory, because of course he does. His scene is woefully small and unfortunately a large part of the details of what the hole is, how Carl sealed it in the first place, and why he has some sort of precognitive powers are left to the imagination. Still, it’s Bruce Dern; when has that ever been a bad thing?

It’s honestly no surprise that everyone works so well. Dante has always had the ability to get more use out of actors than most other filmmakers, particularly when the actors are kids and it’s good to see he hasn’t lost a step in that regard. For those longtime Dante followers, I know your question: Dick Miller’s cameo is midway through the movie, he’s a pizza delivery man.

“Beep beep, Richie!”

The concept of The Hole is pretty simple: there is some sort of evil presence residing in “The Hole”, Creepy Carl refers to it as “The Darkness”, and it preys on the fears of those in its presence, making them manifest and draggin the victims into the hole to be devoured. While it has that Amblin film feel, the idea seems to be more of a mash-up of It and The Gate. To defeat The Darkness, you must conquer your fear; for Lucas, who is afraid of clowns, he simple has a malevolent clown doll after him but in the cases of Julie and Dane their fears are a lot more dark and hard to deal with.

The scares aren’t edge-of-your-seat material and it doesn’t take the concept to all the dark disturbing places it could easily go. This is an all-ages horror flick, after all. But don’t confuse “all-ages horror” for “kids’ horror”, because while this movie may not be The Conjuring it certainly goes a lot darker than most kiddy fare. Visceral it’s not, but The Hole is plenty dark and creepy and pulls no punches.

Unfortunately, The Hole was a victim of the 3-D trend; not only did this assure that the movie would never recoup its budget but it’s also tonally inappropriate. It’s not as if it’s never funny but the movie isn’t exactly a thrill ride; it’s a small and introspective movie that doesn’t really put in for spectacle which is the exact opposite of what a 3-D movie could be. The only successful movies of the 3-D fad in my outspoken boisterous opinion were Piranha and My Bloody Valentine (screw you Avatar) and that’s because they justified the gimmick by using the hell out of it. There was stuff poking out and shit flying at the screen, they had fun with the gimmick and got their money’s worth. The Hole is largely talking and creeping dread, there’s nothing to jump out at the audience so when the movie goes out of its way to throw something at the screen just to remind the viewer why they’re wearing the stupid glasses it just feels distracting and dumb looking.

I can’t imagine why they call him “crazy.”

In my review of Bullet to the Head, I name-dropped Dante when I spoke about how when directors return after a long absence, they are at the mercy of fans with unrealistic expectations. The thing is, this movie is one of the dumbest ones to be disappointed by, Dante hasn’t lost a step and he’s been making movies just like this one for most of his career; if anything this is his triumphant return from the lows of Looney Toons: Back in Action. Aside from maybe Stuart Gordon, Joe Dante is the most consistent genre director of the ‘70s and ‘80s still working today.

The Hole is a small effort but it’s still a great movie. It knows when to be scary and when to be funny, it’s got heart and doesn’t just capture the feeling of those old movies; it is one itself. If you consider yourself a Joe Dante fan or you’re a horror aficionado looking for the perfect movie to share your hobby with your kids, you can do a whole lot worse than The Hole.

The Package

The special features are a joke. There are four featurettes but they’re all only a few minutes. There’s also some trailers and a photo gallery for people who are into that kind of thing. The disc has English and Spanish subs.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

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