Directed by Lee Cronin, The Hole in the Ground is an Irish supernatural horror film acquired by infamous indie studio, A24. The unconventional studio maintains their reputation here with an interesting release strategy, pairing with DirecTV Cinema. The film debuted recently at the Sundance Film Festival to fairly positive reviews, with a theatrical release set for March 1st. Considering Ireland isn’t known for its cinematic prestige, I’m assuming the release plan was to ensure the film is seen by as large an audience as possible. While I didn’t love The Hole in the Ground, the potential certainly cannot be ignored.
The Hole in the Ground follows Sarah and her son Chris, who have moved to escape past traumas, only for something far more sinister to rise to the surface…or sink in the ground, rather. One dark night, Chris disappears into the forest near their new home where a gigantic sinkhole has suddenly appeared. All is well though- the little boy returns home to his mother safe-and-sound, but Sarah becomes increasingly suspicious of the boy, fearing he may not be the child she once knew.
“…the surrounding areas become characters themselves, drowning the film in a sense of inescapable dread.”
There are a lot of things to like in The Hole in the Ground, but the root of the issues can be found in the film’s lack of identity. Is it a supernatural thriller? Is it a family drama? Is it a body horror? It attempts to be all of the above and more, but ends up only scratching the surface on each. That makes the film sound bad, but it totally isn’t. Let’s backtrack a bit and talk about the good stuff.
The biggest positive for The Hole in the Ground is the atmosphere, particularly its use of the setting. The film is very Irish, from the cast & crew to the sweeping landscapes. The film captures the gloomy weather and isolation of the island nation perfectly. There’s a dampness to the film, that immediately puts you in a “it’s been raining for 3 days and I’m tired” kind of mood. Fitting into the mold of A24 films such as The Witch and It Comes at Night, the surrounding areas become characters themselves, drowning the film in a sense of inescapable dread. The sounds of nature and architecture also help to enhance the paranoia and isolation of our characters.
When it comes to the characters, things are a bit uneven. The Hole in the Ground sports a fairly unknown Irish cast, with our leads Seana Kerslake and James Quinn Markey giving fantastic performances. The pair manage to shine, despite any misgivings. Their relationship isn’t explored in-depth and I wasn’t incredibly impressed with the dialogue, but their performances still manage to convince you of the bond between mother and son. I want to give a shout-out to Markey specifically because a child actor performance can really sink or enhance a horror film. He had a tough task ahead of him with such a subtle character, and this kid was creepy. I never want to hear a child say “mommy” again, I don’t care how cute their accent is!
The performances help you buy Sarah’s fears. We’ve seen many examples of “mother knows best” but you really understand why Sarah believes her son is no longer the same child she raised. However, the film tries to ground the horror elements in its underdeveloped family drama, but not enough of their past factored into the terrors they were experiencing. It’s interesting because the film is under 90 minutes, leaving plenty of room for an extra 10-15 minutes to dig a little deeper into its lore, or the O’Neil’s past. The film does neither and ultimately undoes itself by being too mysterious.
The inconsistent tone really becomes an issue towards the second half of the film, leaning a bit too heavily on atmosphere and slow-burn reveals. Beats are repeated in attempt to flesh out the relationship and Sarah’s state of paranoia. But with such a short run time, the film uses up too much time building tension and the pay-offs become disappointing. If you’re going to slow burn something, the fire better be epic. The fire at the end of The Hole in the Ground just smolders a bit before fading out. I’m fine with ambiguity, but the film doesn’t leave enough foundation behind to construct your own ideas about what you just saw.
“The Hole in the Ground is a film with a lot of promise and definitely worthy of donning the A24 banner, but the narrative just doesn’t support the cinematic strengths of the film.”
The Hole in the Ground is a film with a lot of promise and definitely worthy of donning the A24 banner, but the narrative just doesn’t support the cinematic strengths of the film. The movie plays like a dark, Irish folktale shrouded in supernatural mystery. But it felt like it didn’t want to dive deeper into its horror elements, which were (frankly) the best parts of the film. If you’re into movies involving creepy kids, atmosphere and geographic anomalies, The Hole in the Ground is worth your time.
The Hole in the Ground hits theaters March 1st, but if you have DirecTV, you can watch the film right now! Hyped for the film? Have you seen it already? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit! They’re all delightful internet holes to sink into.