Joe Dante’s return to movie-making after 7 years is a teen-oriented horror about two brothers, Dane (Massoglia) and Lucas (Gamble) who move to a small town from the big city with their mother (Polo) and discover a locked trap door that hides a bottomless pit in their basement. After the door is opened, people’s fears start to become real and the brothers, along with cute next-door neighbour Julie (Bennett), decide to investigate. Guilt over a childhood friends death, a sinister clown puppet and an overbearing abusive father are among the fears that must be faced.
Now I should say straight off that I’m a big Joe Dante fan. I’ve grown up with his movies. From his early horrors Piranha and The Howling, to 80′s classics like Gremlins, Explorers and Inner Space and even his lesser but still entertaining 90′s films like Matinee and Small Soldiers. So when I heard that he was making a big screen comeback, it’s fair to say I was very excited. Admittedly the idea of it being 3D didn’t exactly thrill me (I’m not against it, but it tends to be unnecessary for most live-action films), but new gimmicky Dante was better than no Dante at all. As it turned out The Hole was closer to his 90′s work. No classic, but pretty entertaining (and miles better than Looney Tunes thank god).
A likeable cast helps a great deal. Dante has a pretty good record of getting impressive performances out of younger actors and does an excellent job here. The sibling rivalry between Dane and Lucas is nicely done, whilst the teen flirting between Dane and Julie is suitably embarrassing. Their inexperience shows occasionally in the more frightening scenes but they are never annoying in the way a lot of child actors can be. However as a result of the focus on the younger characters, the adults are sidelined and it would have been nice to have seen more of Dern’s Creepy Carl, the house’s previous owner (vintage horror fans will love the name of the glove factory he lives in, ‘Gloves by Orlac’). Dante fans will also be glad to know that Dick Miller makes his obligatory cameo (although way too briefly).
The movie also has a pleasing 80′s vibe about it. The special effects, though occasionally utilising more modern CGI, wouldn’t look out of place in any of Dante’s earlier work. It only really goes full-on, effects-wise in it’s slightly overdone climax. For the most part the effects are played down and mainly used for modest creepy atmosphere. Which is quite refreshing in an era when effects for effects sake is becoming the norm. The overall tone of creepy thrills and mild scares is well balanced, although very young kids may find it a little too scary.
The downside is the story, which never really comes to life. The plot feels slight and underpowered and a feeling of ‘is that it?’ comes at the end. It’s also difficult to know what kids today would make of a film like this. Kids used to almost perfect CGI effects may be a little disappointed by the more modest effects here.
On the whole though The Hole is a perfectly entertaining and well made film. Without the distraction of 3D it works even better at home than it did in the cinema. It’s far from perfect and far from vintage Dante, but it’s better than most teen (and indeed most horror) movies around at the moment. The DVD and Blu-ray extras include the usual ‘making of’ and cast and crew interviews and behind the scenes featurettes.
The Hole is releases on DVD and Blu-ray on the 17th Jan – order it here now