It has been 6 long years since Joe Dante has been behind the camera for a feature film project and now the legendary director of Gremlins, The Howling, Piranha, Explorers and The ‘burbs is back with a new children’s horror film, The Hole, which screened in stunning 3D at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. While most of the iconic horror directors are drifting into the abyss, Dante has somehow reinvented himself and delivered a solid and scary children’s horror film that will be remembered years to come.
In the film written by Mark L. Smith (Vacancy), after moving into a new town, brothers Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) and their neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett) discover a bottomless hole in their basement that brings their nightmares to life. With shadows lurking around every corner, they must face their darkest fears in order to put an end to the mystery of the hole.
Every good film starts at the screenplay and The Hole is no exception. Smith delivers a remarkably believable story filled with realistic dialogue and colorful characters. Nathan Gamble kills it as the younger brother Lucas and Haley Bennett’s performance can be compared to Sarah Roemer ‘s in Disturbia. In fact, the story structure is very similar to Disturbia’s as a child’s isolation in his house leads to a whole quarrel of events that end with redemption.
Smith establishes exactly what kind of film The Hole is by opening the film with a sequence of verbal slinging of the word “shit” between the family members. Immediately they become a family you believe and might even know. Beyond that, it establishes that The Hole is a darker film, something right out of the 80’s like Explorers or even Gremlins.
Speaking of dark, the film is quite scary, even though it appears it could barely pass for PG-13. There are incredibly creepy ghosts, demons in the dark and a killer jester doll (as seen in the poster) that torments little Lucas. While I didn’t think it was scary, the guy next to us was jumping and squealing through the entire movie, which does say a lot about it.
The jester doll was done using live puppeteers (it looked as if they used stop motion for his movements and then digitally added facial expressions, very creepy) and looked incredible. In fact, most of the digital FX work was beautifully done, especially the final sequence where we see what’s down in the hole. The 3-D effect was done in such a way that it added depth, instead of being a cheap gimmick (other than a few shots early one).
What makes The Hole such a special film is that had I seen this when I was 12, it would be a film I love and remember forever. While I can’t say every adult will enjoy it, it’s safe to say those with great memories of the 80’s adventure-horror films will find something here that will warm your soul. Those with kids bring them and help create a new classic in their lives that they’ll never forget. The Hole is engaging, fun, clever and even scary… it’s a rare treat that should not be missed.