Home Video Hovel- The Hole, by Scott Nye
Joe Dante can’t catch a break. After a run in the 1980s and early 90s marked by a singular mixture of humor and adventure, he’s managed to only mount a handful of projects. 2003’s astounding Looney Tunes: Back in Action was a dud at the box office, and now this film, produced in 2009, couldn’t even get a theatrical release stateside, even with the then-still-fresh 3D element. Thanks to the unfolding magic of DVD and Blu-ray however, you can now own this nearly-discarded film, albeit without its extra dimension. And while The Hole certainly has some issues (stemming mostly from an unconvincing screenplay), Dante is as nimble as ever behind the camera.
17-year-old Dane (Chris Massoglia) and his younger brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble) have just arrived in Bensonville, a small (and, from what I can gather, fictitious) town that hardly compares to their more familiar stomping grounds in Brooklyn, New York. Their mother (Teri Polo) is an overworked nurse who spends most of the days at work, leaving Dane to mind Lucas until their school year starts. They pass the time as most siblings do, picking on each other and avoiding genuine interaction, until – along with hot-girl-next-door Julie (Haley Bennett) – they discover a hatch in their basement, covering up a hole that seems to have no bottom. They investigate it as much as they can from above, but eventually close it back up and go about their day. That’s when strange things start happening – lights turning on and off, apparitions, clown dolls coming to life, that sort of thing. And whatever The Hole is starts to seem a lot more ominous than a simple crawl space.
And things take off from there. Dante retains his talent, accomplishing a lot with a single shot while keeping things in motion, ramping up the tension frequently and very effectively, showing almost nothing, but to wonderful effect. He manages to coax fairly compelling performances out of his young leads, though they lack a certain refinement and gusto, a detriment brought to stark relief by the appearance, midway through, of Bruce Dern (playing a character named “Creepy Carl,” no less). That’s the double-edged sword that is Dern – he really raises your film to the next level, but makes whatever you had going to that point feel a little wanting.
The film’s main problem is its deficient screenplay, written by Mark L. Smith (he of Luke-Wilson-starring Vacancy and its non-Luke-Wilson-starring direct-to-DVD prequel, Vacancy 2: The First Cut). Structurally, it’s reasonably interesting, with even the tiniest details paying off down the line, but it’s rudderless in that, even by horror movie standards, the characters are weirdly divorced from the threat around them. Even when things get off-the-scales creepy, they rarely behave as though they’re in much danger, happily sticking around the house containing a bottomless pit in and out of which they’ve seen things crawling. Moreover, in directly dangerous situations, they separate themselves willingly and to little effect. At the height of the conflict, Dane even leaves Lucas at home alone. And, yes, it’s true that the film would be a lot less interesting for it, but there have to be more interesting ways of achieving some basic geographical separation.
But Dante’s flair keeps this thing moving, and his imagination is really unleashed at the end in a cool way. While some shots would have very obviously been a gas in 3D, it still works on our old-fashioned 2D screens. The DVD transfer (we didn’t receive a Blu-ray to look at, though one is available) is fine enough, showing some modest interlacing, but strong colors and fine detail. Obviously, if you’re going to check this out, just go for the Blu, which will offer a richer palette and sharper image. Whichever disc you go for, however, just avoid the special features – EPKs as far as the eye can see. We do learn that Bruce Dern genuinely scared the kid, though, which is kind of awesome. And that the kid wasn’t afraid of clown dolls before, but is now…actually I think this movie kind of wrecked that kid.
You’d have to be a pretty hardcore Joe Dante fan to want to own this, but it’s at least worth a rental. While it’s a shame they couldn’t find a market to show this film theatrically in the U.S. (though it gets so weird at the end, I’m not surprised), I’m glad it’s out there now for all to enjoy.