[Review] 'The Hole in the Ground' is a suspenseful exploration of one woman's paranoid nightmare
This is why I don’t have kids…
…There is a long line of films that have ruined the idea of kids forever for me. The Omen, Village of the Damned, The Shining. Yes, The Shining. I know Danny isn’t a villain, but are you telling me you don’t get chills when that kid says “Redrum”? No way. Not for me.
Directed by Lee Cronin and written by Cronin and Stephen Shields, A24’s The Hole in the Ground is Cronin’s debut feature, and adds another creepy kid story to the overflowing shelves of this sub-genre. Trying to build a new life for her family, Sarah (Seana Kerslake) moves herself and her son, Chris (James Quinn Markey), out to a rural town where she meets some ominous neighbors. Sparked by the belief of her neighbor, Noreen (Kati Outinen), that Sarah’s son is not actually her son, Sarah begins to believe that Chris may actually be an imposter after playing near a foreboding sinkhole in the woods.
This strange little movie hooked me immediately with some breathtakingly eerie cinematography from Tom Comerford, which follows Sarah and Chris as they drive through the countryside, a similar look to the opening of Kubrick’s classic, The Shining. Comerford creates images that I could live in. Like a dark children’s book, every frame of The Hole in the Ground elicits a sinister, fantastical sense with strong roots in macabre fairytales. Mesmerizing shots with a theme of swirling, such as coffee in a cup, work to hypnotize the viewer and pull us deep into this unnerving story. Everything relates back to the sinkhole, which is much more impressive than it sounds, as it is roughly the size of Godzilla’s green butt. Washed in opaque greys, blues, and browns, I never ceased to feel the presence of that sinkhole, no matter how far from the house the scene was taking place.
That’s no accident. Cronin does this intentionally to force the audience to question whether or not Sarah is insane. Her relationship with Chris is shown rather simply at first. They have a game where they make faces. She protects him from a spider. But Cronin and Shields’ script quickly introduces what’s wrong with these two. Chris pulls the whole, “You’re not as cool as dad” gimmick, and smashes the spider that Sarah just saved. Chris is kind of a little dick, and Sarah is clearly struggling as a single parent. So, it’s no wonder that once she begins to feel something is off with Chris, the audience is bombarded by earthy tones and imagery, because Sarah herself can’t stop thinking about that damn sinkhole, and what may be lurking beneath it.
This is why I don’t have kids.
If you’re thinking that The Hole in the Ground has shades of The Babadook, you’re right. Like Jennifer Kent’s film, The Hole in the Ground plays off the paranoias of Sarah towards her son, steeped heavily in themes of single motherhood. The difference here is, Kent’s film plays off the mother’s anger, while Sarah is more fearful than anything. Kerslake sells the role beautifully with a convincing, passionate portrayal that is sometimes tragic, sometimes awkward, in the best kind of way. Kerslake is raw and unsettling, with moments where she literally runs from her child in public without saying a word. We’ve all had those days, right? We don’t know what to believe, because this is exactly how a crazy person would act, and for all we know, every eerie moment, such as Chris eating a spider despite being “afraid” of them, could all be in Sarah’s head. There wasn’t a single point in this film where I didn’t feel a little uncomfortable, simply because we have no idea if Sarah is going to end up murdering an innocent kid, or be killed by the creature she thinks he is.
Cronin fills The Hole in the Ground with enough suspense to fill a sinkhole. What, it’s an easy metaphor. Kerslake’s on edge performance gets some of the credit, but the soundtrack, both music and sound design in this film, is masterful. Composer Stephen McKeon recalls 90s horror with a score that rattles your bones with deep brass notes reminiscent of Alien 3 and The Shining. But it’s the sound design that steals the show here. The Hole in the Ground exaggerates sound for maximum scares, taking something like Chris’s footsteps, and giving them a heavy, powerful sound like a large man in boots. Keep in mind, this kid is maybe 60 pounds soaking wet. Cujo wouldn’t have footsteps this loud. It gives Chris an intimidating presence that he can’t possibly have with his size, but does.
This is why I don’t have kids.
The hole in the script threatening to sink the whole film is that, while Sarah is an excellent character and Chris is well played by Markey, their relationship isn’t strong. We spend what feels like so little time with Chris and Sarah before she suspects Chris turns. We barely get to know Chris. So, while Sarah begins to suspect him of being a monster, it’s harder for us to understand how Chris is acting differently because we haven’t really seen how he acts otherwise. Okay sure, the eating the spider and heavy footsteps are unnerving to say the least, but that happens in the same scene, and we can’t even be sure it’s real. Outside of that, Chris isn’t doing much of anything that much stranger than a normal kid. It’s Sarah’s fear that drives the story alone, which works, but not as strongly as if the audience could understand why she is suddenly so afraid of Chris so easily. It would take a lot more than a strange old woman saying my dog was the devil to make me believe it. I fucking love my dog. He’s an asshole, but I’m going to need proof, lady.
Whether or not you buy into Sarah’s belief that Chris is some monster-child, The Hole in the Ground is no impostor. This horror film is legit and scary as hell. Well, outside of a few laughable moments I won’t get into. Sarah is in a nightmare, and we’re living it with her. The Hole in the Ground is a terrifying exploration of one woman’s paranoia, which leads to a blood-chilling finale that will shock you. For sixty minutes, this film is a slow burn, but holy shit does The Hole in the Ground turn it up to eleven in the end.
The Hole in the Ground may follow a common premise that does little of anything new, but this film is so well-made, so disturbing, that you might find yourself scooting a few feet away from your kid by the time the credits roll.
This is why I will never have kids.
The Hole in the Ground is now available on VOD from A24.
By Matt Konopka
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