Friday, June 07, 2013

30 Days of Nightmares #7: THE HOLE (2009)

The Story: Three kids discover a bottomless pit in the basement of a suburban tract house... but their biggest problem isn't the danger of falling in.  It's the danger of what comes out.  Reminds me of that old Nietzsche adage... "When you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you."

Expectations: I've been hearing about this movie for a few years now.  Initially I was very excited about seeing a new horror film from Joe Dante, who made some of the most memorable sci-fi/horror movies of my youth (including GREMLINS, EXPLORERS, INNER SPACE and THE 'BURBS) and who recently directed two of the best episodes of MASTERS OF HORROR.   Then THE HOLE... well... fell into a hole.  It took a couple of years for the film to get a U.S. distributor, and I must admit that while I was waiting, my enthusiasm waned. That's not really a fair reaction, but I'm being honest.   When it looked like the film might not get released at all, I started to wonder if THE HOLE was tonally-challenged.  Joe Dante's films have always straddled a fine line between family-friendly playfulness and dark (sometimes savage) humor... and I sometimes think that his sensibilities as a filmmaker may be stuck in the 1980s, when films like GREMLINS and THE GOONIES (films that, as Harlan Ellison pointed out, could be both mean-spirited and "family-friendly") didn't seem so out of place.

Reaction: THE HOLE is not mean-spirited.  It's also not scary, which may explain why the film was so hard to market.  About halfway through the movie, I decided that THE HOLE would have made a good anthology TV series in the 1980s.  In each episode, a new character would find the bottomless pit.  When they looked inside, their deepest, darkest fear would come to life.  In the film version, there are only three characters and three main fears.  The first owes a lot to the best-known segment of TRILOGY OF TERROR, as well as POLTERGEIST.  (Killer clown dolls are a reliable gimmick, but it's been done better.)  The second is sort of a lightweight J-Horror episode.  (Again: It's been done better.)  The third has the most potential dramatic weight, but because the filmmaker plays out the conflict almost entirely within the realm of fantasy, the scares are ultimately not very affecting.  The sum total is a perfectly entertaining film, but not one that left a deep impression on this viewer's mind.

Honestly, I wish I had stronger feelings about the movie.  I like the concept, and the theme about overcoming one's fears by facing them.  The acting and the visual storytelling are accomplished.  But the whole thing was a little too light for my taste... too much Harry Potter, not enough real horror.  That said, I can't help wondering what I would have thought of THE HOLE if I had seen it in 1985.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: The spectre of child abuse hangs over the story, but remains in the shadows.  I suppose I should look on that as an admirable attempt to help younger viewers cope with a serious subject matter without causing them nightmares.  

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