Right from its very first shot, “The Hole in the Ground” is fully shrouded in moody and ominous ambience, and that is one of a few good things I can say about the film. As initially sensing that something bad is going to happen sooner or later, you will probably have some expectation, but, sadly, the movie does not go much beyond its nice creepy atmosphere, and the overall result is a rather superficial and mediocre horror tale which could be told within the half of its 90-minute running time.
During the opening scene, we are introduced to a young woman named Sarah O’Neill (Seána Kerslake) and her little son Chris (James Quinn Markey). Although she does not talk much about her past, it is implied that she recently left her husband due to domestic abuse, and now she tries to make a new start for her and her dear son after moving to a shabby house located in some remote area, but things are still not that good for them. While he has difficulty in adjusting himself to a new environment, Chris often misses his father, and that certainly causes some strain between him and his mother.
When they are going back to their house after having some good time at a local amusement park, Sarah and Chris have a very disturbing encounter with some old lady on the road, and Sarah later learns more about that old lady. Many years ago, she tried to kill her young son just because she somehow came to believe that he was not her son, and that subsequently led to an irreversible tragedy for her and her husband.
Of course, as you have already guessed, a similar situation soon happens to Sarah. In the middle of one night, she hears a strange sound, and then she discovers that her son is disappeared. After trying to find her son outside for a while, she eventually tries to call the police for help, but then, what do you know, her son appears again. Although she is relieved to see that her son is all right, she is also quite baffled about what exactly happened, and then she comes to sense that something is not so right about her son. Sure, he looks mostly same as before, but he feels, well, a bit different in several aspects, and Sarah becomes more suspicious and nervous about him – especially after they have another disturbing encounter with that old lady.
Now you will probably have a pretty good idea on where the story is heading, and I assure you that the movie does not stray far from whatever you expect. There is a chilly sequence where Sarah happens to witness something quite unnerving from her son’s room at one night, and then there later comes a dark moment of paranoia as Sarah is driven further into her growing doubt and suspicion in the middle of a special event held at her son’s school.
Not so surprisingly, there is no one to listen to Sarah, and we accordingly get a few interesting scenes which make us wonder whether her viewpoint is really reliable. When she tries to convince one certain supporting character at one point, the movie does not directly show us what was shot by her small video camera during the previous night, and you may have some reasonable doubt on her circumstance. Is it possible that she is merely being hysterical due to those mental burdens on her fragile status?
Unfortunately, the movie simply goes along its predictable plot without much ambiguity, especially after a certain tense scene which does not leave any doubt at all on whatever is happening around Sarah. While I appreciate how it steadily maintains its sinister ambience throughout its running time, it does not have much narrative momentum as plodding from one narrative point to another, and, above all, its characters remain to be more or less than plot elements instead of being engaging enough to hold our attention. As constantly immersed in the monotonous moodiness surrounding her, Sarah does not particularly feel like a well-developed character, and so do a few substantial supporting characters in the film.
Oh, I forgot to mention that, as reflected by the title of the movie, there is a big, mysterious sinkhole in a forest right next to Sarah’s house. Because it is quite apparent from the beginning that this sinkhole is involved with her increasingly disturbing situation in one way or another, it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that this sinkhole plays an important role during the last act of the film, and I have to tell you that the movie is underwhelming even at that point without much shock or surprise for us.
As the center of the movie, Seána Kerslake is effective whenever she gives us some glimpse into her character’s vulnerability, and it is a shame that the movie does not utilize well her considerable talent. In case of young actor James Quinn Markey, he is unfortunately stuck with a thankless role which only demands him to look insidious, and I was also disappointed to see how Kati Outinen, a Finnish actress mainly known for her memorable performances in the works of Aki Kaurismäki such as “The Match Factory Girl” (1990) and “Le Havre” (2011), is utterly wasted in her disposable supporting role.
“The Hole in the Ground” is directed by Lee Cronin, who also wrote the screenplay along with Stephen Shields. This is his first feature film, and, even though I was dissatisfied a lot with it, I admired its competent technical aspects to some degree at least. I can only hope that he will soon move onto better things after this lukewarm debut of his.
You might appreciate my recent short interview with Shanghai-based writer/director Ray Kenderdine, as he shares a few thoughts on the slow-creep of unconventional horror. I am sure he would be thrilled to hear from you too, if you decide to reach out to him!
SC: Maybe I should…