REVIEWED: THE HOLE
September 24, 2010 1 Comment
Joe Dante, best known as the director of the thrilling Gremlins films, is a figure as frustrating as he is enticing. Occupying his recent CV largely with TV work, and preceding that with the middling kids films Looney Tunes: Back in Action and Small Soldiers, Dante has been adrift from terra firma in quite some time. All the more disappointing it is, therefore, that his first film seven years, The Hole, is a bland and tacky sub-Disney effort that lacks the subversive wit of his best works, and falls victim to the clunkiness of his worst.
Susan (Teri Polo) and her two sons, Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble), are fleeing from a haunting past, in which they endured violence at the hands of an abusive husband and father. It appears that in the sleepy town of Bensonville, they have finally found a fresh start, where they can settle down and forget their past once and for all. However, while exploring their new home, Dane and Lucas come across a locked door in the basement, a door which, when opened, harnesses the subconscious of those in proximity, exposing their fears and secrets and bringing them into the real world, where they must be contended with. Along with their interminably bored neighbour, Julie (Haley Bennett), they struggle to keep whatever is down the hole from escaping, while trying to keep a grip on their own sanity.
The Hole has a decent enough Twilight Zone-inspired premise, but it suffers under the weight of an overly family-friendly touch, which undermines Dante’s attempts to generate suspenseful scares. Consequently, the film plays out like an especially naff episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? or Goosebumps, with neither the budget nor the self-aware kitschiness to succeed fundamentally as either an effects-driven rollercoaster ride, or just a fun B-movie. Rather, despite the vibrant and enthusastic cast, there is little in terms of thrills or entertainment value to be found, and given Dante’s resume – for even his bad films pop visually – it is surprising that he has made something as deeply murky and soporific as this.
For a kids film, the first act is paced torturously, unaided by a script which runs the gamut on family-friendly horror cliches without injecting any of its own personality, and most frustratingly, not capitalising on the postmodern smarts that Dante exploited to hilarious effect in the second Gremlins film. The concept of the hole itself takes a back seat to the pretense of characterisation, yet given how by-the-numbers these roles are written, it seems like a half-baked attempt at masking the film’s presumably meagre budget. However, even once Dante gets to the heart of the matter, the results – a creepy girl, a clown doll and a relentless father figure, alongside a sizable helping of jump scares – borrow extravagantly from the playbook of been-there-done-that horror tropes without a whiff of irony of playfulness. Moreover, there is never that sense of sustained threat that Dante conveyed so well in both Gremlins films; instead, the kids assertively conquer their demons with considerable ease, and therefore it is neither very rewarding nor very exciting to watch.
There are a few effective moments, however; a silly showdown between Lucas and a clown doll recalls the daft puppetry of Dante’s most accomplished works, and the film’s one clever idea – that Dane and Lucas’ abusive father only appears oversized because that is their subconscious childhood perception of him – is pulled off well, yet these brief flashes of inventiveness are strewn among the overarching derivation of the entire product. Also wasted are the actors; Nathan Gamble, who most will remember as Comissioner Gordon’s son in The Dark Knight, has apt brotherly chemistry with Massoglia, and Bennett is the suitably sarcastic foil, yet the script boxes them into rudimentary patterns, and despite a few surprising expletives, don’t be fooled that this production has anything approaching edge. One neat touch, however, is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Dick Miller as a pizza delivery guy, continuing his tradition of appearing in each and every one of Dante’s films.
The Hole rather ironically falls into an awkward abyss of its own making; in being slightly too adult for the youngest kids, while lacking the visceral thrills and personality to appease older crowds, it is difficult to imagine who the film will fully appeal to. Dante sensibly keeps the pic trim and easily digestible, but at its worst this is sleep-inducing stuff, and from an auteur of considerable talent, that isn’t good news. Let us hope that he cracks on with a third Gremlins film some time soon.