Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Hole (2009)

Single mother Susan (Teri Polo) moves with her late teenage son Dane (Chris Massoglia) and her youngest Lucas (Nathan Gamble) from Brooklyn into a house in one of those proverbial peaceful small towns US horror – and perhaps parts of US society - likes to obsess about. The family is clearly moving away from something depressing that has caught up with them again and again, but what exactly that is, we’ll only learn much later.

Dane isn’t happy at all with the move (which is only one of many), not even when he insta-crushes on their neighbour Julie (Haley Bennett) who isn’t just cute and nice but also the kinda gal who is reading Dante – not the director - in her free time. Barely moved in, the kids discover a hatch secured by multitudinous locks in the cellar. They open it, and find a deep dark hole below. Some experiments suggest it’s bottomless, and utterly impossible. There’s also something living inside it, and soon Dane, Julie, and Lucas are threatened by their deepest fears. On the positive side, their ordeal should safe them from years of counselling. Well, if they survive it, that is.

Watching The Hole after Joe Dante’s newest film, the hatefully bad Burying the Ex is bound to give one whiplash, because where the later film doesn’t at all manage to be the film it wants to be (I’ll give Dante the benefit of the doubt here insofar as I’m not going to suggest the Burying that exists is the film he actually had in mind), The Hole tries to be the platonic ideal of a very specific type of teenage horror – in the sense of The Gate not of Generic PG-13 Horror Movie, The Sequel – and succeeds very well indeed.

So the film is very good at short-hand sketching quite believable teenage characters with problems, giving even the the older Dane and Julie a rest of child-like whimsy to go with their problems, and, while not exactly going out of its way to be original when it comes to their characters, avoids turning them into slasher stereotypes. Which also, quite pleasantly, results in a film whose teenage and younger characters don’t act like stupid horror movie fodder at all once the shit hits the fan. Consequently, it’s easy to root for these kids, even though they are impossibly pretty.

For the more grown-up part of the film’s audience (let’s pretend the film actually had found its audience, which it undeservedly didn’t), there are some weaknesses in the film I suspect younger viewers won’t mind. Mainly, that the most secret fears attacking the kids aren’t all that horrible to watch. Sure, psychologically, it’s all heavy stuff, but in execution, Dante rather goes for “fun” horror effects than things that are truly frightening to look at, or all that disturbing. This directly fits to my second larger problem with the film, the comparative easiness with which the characters conquer their darkest fears, suggesting that just facing your fears will automatically end them, and making it rather easy for the characters to do that too. In this film, there’s no price to be paid for conquering one’s fears, and trauma doesn’t seem something you have to learn to cope with, but something you can power through. It’s, well, a bit dishonest, even though I’m sure it’s not necessarily meant that way.

However, putting these grown-up reservations on this pleasantly teenage film isn’t exactly fair, and I might just as well praise Dante and his scriptwriter Mark L. Smith (who also wrote the coming remake of my favourite piece of New French Cruelty Martyrs) for trying to take on the more optimistic mind set of a teenager so well without being as condescending as I am right now.

And, in the end, there’s also the undeniable fact that I just had a lot of fun watching The Hole, even though I’m clearly not the target audience for Dante’s film, which I think is not something to be sneezed at.

No comments: