Director: Lee Cronin
Writers: Lee Cronin, Stephen Shields
Stars: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, James Cosmo
Since A24 picked this film up midway through production, hopes have been high that it was going to be on a par with last year’s Hereditary, so this little film has been attracting more attention worldwide than any other Irish horror I can remember. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not. Both films have a young child on the poster, so fans of Hereditary might think they’re in for more of the same, and they’re really not.
Seána Kerslake plays Sarah, the mother of young Chris (James Quinn Markey). They’ve moved to a remote house in rural Ireland for a fresh start from some past that’s never fully explained. After an argument, Chris runs off into the nearby woods. Sarah runs after him and finds a huge hole in the ground – is it a sinkhole? or a meteor strike? – we don’t know, but it’s much too big for her to go down to investigate. Luckily though, Chris soon appears behind her and they go back to their house.
So for an hour after that, the film plays with the idea that the boy who ran into the woods is not the boy Sarah brought back out. Is this just a case of a kid acting differently because he’s in a new place where he knows no one or is he acting out because he misses his dad, or is this all in Sarah’s head because she’s not taking her meds? There’s the familiar harbinger character – see Cabin in the Woods – who screams: ‘He’s not your son!’ but that old lady’s nuts, right?
I think this film’s biggest problem is that it disappears up its own allegory. It’s so busy giving you the subtext; that it forgets that you also need context. It’s great when a movie, horror or otherwise, can say something about the human condition while it’s telling a story, but this script seems to have started with the ‘issue’ and just stuck some horror tropes around it which leaves the A story feeling rather thin and incomplete.
So much is left unexplained in this film, and I know that can work sometimes, but in this case, I really did want some more information. Where is Chris’s dad? What happened in the marriage/ family to cause the separation? Why does Sarah have a cut on her head, which she says happened a year ago, that is still raw and bleeding? Again it feels like they’ve thought of the allegory – she’s got a wound from the past that hasn’t healed – but they haven’t thought about the logic of how that’s supposed to make sense in reality.
On a positive note; there are some genuinely creepy moments, fine performances from all the cast, the cinematography is really good, and the direction is, for the most part, spot on. I say for the most part because the ending failed to evoke any emotion in me. To me, a good horror movie should be like an ever-rising graph of tension and scares until it peaks at the end of the third act. The Hole in the Ground feels like it plateaus, at a fairly low level, in act two and just runs out the clock without any major third act obstacle to overcome or scares to be had.
It’s an interesting oddity, but the total lack of explanation for any of the hows or whys left me feeling it could’ve been so much better with a little more context, and there was so much more that could’ve been done to enhance the ending given the pieces in play.