The Hole 3-D (2009)
Studio: E1 Entertainment/Bold
Director: Joe Dante
Starring: Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennet, Nathan Gamble, Teri Polo
Review by: Ben Bussey
A single mother and her two sons move from Brooklyn to a sleepy middle-American suburb. No one cares much to discuss the reasons behind the move, and mother Susan (Polo) is too busy with her new job to help her kids settle in as well as she’d like. Naturally teenage elder brother Dale (Massoglia) isn’t taking it too well; or at least, not until he notices his new neighbour Julie (Bennett). After little brother Lucas (Gamble) tries to force an introduction between his lovedrunk sibling and the girl next door, a fairly standard brotherly fight ensues: but in the ruccus, they find themselves in the basement, on top of a massive trapdoor laden with padlocks. Again, as any young boys would, they proceed to open the sucker up, and find themselves staring at – nothing. The thing in their basement is simply a hole; cold, dark, and seemingly bottomless. But, as anyone who saw the opening frames of that James Cameron movie knows, “when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”
Just so we’re on the same page – no, this is not a remake of the 2001 British teen thriller of the same name, in which Thora Birch gave battle in vain with the English accent and an underage Keira Knightley flashed her rack. But even so, this film may also prompt questions about what we deem appropriate for the young. The Hole 3-D constitues a rare revival of that curious minor subgenre that so briefly flourished in the mid-80s; the kiddie horror, movies starring and primarily aimed at the prepubescent but boasting scares, gore, profanity and other such dark thrills that go way beyond the reaches of typical family oriented movies. As such, it’s only fitting it be directed by the man who arguably gave birth to the kiddie horror in the first place: Joe Dante, the legend behind Gremlins and the 90s semi-revisitation of the subgenre Small Soldiers. However, The Hole is a distinctly different breed of kiddie horror movie. Where Gremlins and Small Soldiers liberally peppered their darkness with anarchic humour, here the darkness tends to lead only to more darkness. This isn’t a movie designed to provide fits of hysterical giggles but rather to get under the viewer’s skin, with the kind of nightmarish imagery and suggestion that comes back to get you when you’re trying to sleep at night. The result might not be as much fun as the kiddie horrors of old, but it’s certainly effective and interesting.
After looking into the hole, Dane, Julie and Lucas all find their worst fears taking physical form and coming after them; and whilst Lucas’s phobia may be quite typical, it just so happens that Dane and Julie have genuinely traumatic memories that are coming back to haunt them. Yes, this is a standard device for more adult-oriented horror, but for a kid’s film it’s pretty heavy terrain, and a far cry from the grisly but largely light-hearted likes of Gremlins, Critters and my all-time personal favourite The Monster Squad. In directly dealing with ‘issues’ and eschewing the comedic leanings of its predecessors, The Hole feels pretty atypical not only as a kiddie horror but also as a Joe Dante movie. Indeed, it feels most reminscent of The Gate, that demonic Canadian classic that was surely the most messed up of the kiddie horrors; given the conceptual similarities and the fact that it’s in 3-D, let’s hope Alex Winter takes stock of this film before embarking on his upcoming stereoscopic remake of The Gate. All that said, there are at least a few moments which unmistakably bear Joe Dante’s thumbprint; a signature cameo from a Dante regular, and a couple of sequnces featuring one of the most enduring childhood nightmare figures: the creepy clown. Consider yourself warned, young and old alike!
Now to the stock questions: is 3-D any good? Stock answer: meh. There’s nothing wrong with it exactly, but as ever it adds more to the ticket price than it does to the viewing experience; let us recommence waiting for the penny to drop. Next stock question: are the young cast up to the task? Answer: thankfully, they’re not at all bad. Chris Massoglia is a little monotonous, but hey, he’s playing a teenage boy; Nathan Gamble is just fine as the precocious kid brother; and Haley Bennett is cute and endearing enough to make the grown men in the audience feel deeply ashamed of themselves. (Note: she was 21 when the film was shot.)
I rather doubt The Hole will lead to a new boom in kiddie horror; all in all it’s a little too dour, and doesn’t have enough of the old 80s-style magic to really win the viewer’s heart. The lacklustre conclusion doesn’t do much to help matters in that respect. Even so, as a foray into a subgenre which in my opinion is sadly underexplored, and a well overdue return to horror for its director, The Hole is a noteworthy film nonetheless. Probably best not to bring the younger kids along, though.