Sunday, January 09, 2011

DVD Review - The Hole

The Film

The Hole is an 80's throwback in all the best ways. With Joe Dante in the director's chair, this hugely enjoyable family adventure recalls much of the spirit and invention exhibited the director's Gremlins, Explorers and The 'burbs, and although its final act can't quite live up to the promise of what went before, this is still a cut above most of what passes for live-action family entertainment these days. It begins in Bensonville, Oregon, where a single mother (Teri Polo, forgettable again) has moved with her two children for what we understand is the umpteenth time. Teenager Dane (Chris Massoglia) is a particularly sullen presence who takes out his frustration on younger brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble), but he perks up a little when he spies next-door neighbour Julie (Haley Bennett). The first thing we notice about these characters is how well-drawn and believable they are, particularly in the relationship between Dane and Lucas, with Dante's ability to work well with young actors once again paying off.

The plot revolves around an apparently bottomless pit located in the house the Thompsons have just moved into. Rather inconveniently, it turns out to be a gateway to Hell, and as soon as the curious kids have opened it, strange goings-on begin occurring all over the place. Dante has a lot of fun with this portion of the film and there are some great touches, like the footage captured on a video camera lowered into the pit, or the presence of a (very creepy) clown that keeps popping up to scare Lucas. The Hole might be billed as family viewing, but Dante isn't afraid of giving the kids a good scare. He delivers some unsettling scenes, including a small girl crying tears of blood, and he controls the rising tension expertly. The Hole is certainly a lot smarter, wittier and better constructed than many adult horrors of recent years.

Everything in the film's opening hour is terrifically entertaining, and Mark L. Smith's screenplay does a skilful job of balancing humour and scares, while developing the central theme of the characters' need to confront and defeat their own fears. Only in the final twenty minutes does the picture begin to wobble. The Hole's climactic sequence is its most spectacular, with some imaginatively warped production design, but it lacks the focus of the more tightly controlled opening hour. Still it doesn't do too much lasting damage to the film as a whole, which is a satisfying reminder of Dante's unique gifts as a filmmaker. Bizarrely, aside from a couple of festival screenings (one of which was in 2009!), The Hole still hasn't received theatrical distribution in the US, so we should consider ourselves lucky to have it.

The Extras

The Hole disc will contain a 'Making Of' feature, interviews with the cast and crew, and some behind-the-scenes footage. Unfortunately, my review copy had no extra features.

The Hole is released on DVD and Blu-ray on January 17th.

Buy The Hole here