The Hole (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Dane (Chris Massoglia) is not exactly thrilled when his mother (Teri Polo) decides to move their family of three from Brooklyn to the suburbs. While playfully roughhousing in the basement, as brothers often do, Dane and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) discover a trap door with several locks underneath a rug. Although they manage to open it, they can’t see anything below but darkness. When items are dropped, there is no accompanying noise that suggests the hole’s relative depth. Soon enough, bizarre things start to occur in the boys’ home and the small town.
“The Hole,” written by Mark L. Smith and directed by Joe Dante, is like a highly satisfying two-part “Goosebumps” episode: a proper dosage of pre- to mid-teen dialogue, scarier parts balanced with instances of humor, and cheesy special and visual effects that hearkens back to the 80s.
The story is entertaining because the script knows how to play with the audience. It is the right decision to spend a good amount of time exploring the mysterious hole in the ground. I had a mental checklist of what I would have done if I were in the brothers’ shoes and I was glad that they are smart enough to have different strategies of approaching the problem. And yet the longer the characters stay around it, the level of danger seem to increase in increments minute enough for it to become a big threat by the time the young people run out of avenues.
Some scenes that have nothing to do with the mystery also work, from Dane being shy and awkward around Julie (Haley Bennett), the girl next door, having its share of light chuckles to simple shots of Lucas sitting like how a normal kid would sit on a couch while playing video games. It is in the small details that the film flourishes; it feels like watching realistic young people who happen to stumble upon an amazing but dangerous thing.
One aspect of the film, however, leaves much to be desired. The adults become unimportant which does not feel right for its storyline. For instance, it might have been so much more interesting if Creepy Carl (Bruce Dern), former owner of the Lucas and Dane’s new home, is given more meat to bite into. The mother being typically unaware of whatever is going on in the house because she is too busy working at the hospital, the protagonists at times need an adult figure that they can bounce ideas with. Creepy Carl has an idea of the evil inside the hole and it is frustrating that he is only given two scenes that could easily have been excised which would have made little impact to the arc of the story.
In terms of an adult figure outside the horror elements, another character that seems worth looking into is Mom’s co-worker and potential boyfriend. It quickly becomes apparent that Dane and Lucas have issues in terms of not having an active male role model in their lives. If the screenplay had not ignored the adults altogether, certain details about Dane and Lucas could have been brought to the forefront. Other than the fact that we did not want to see them get hurt physically by the evil that clawed its way out of the darkness, a more engaging relationship between youth and adults might have provided deeper reasons to root for the good guys.