The Hole in the Ground doesn’t break a ton of new ground, but it’s creepy and atmospheric enough to make it worth digging into.
The bond between mother and child is thought to be a sacred one and perhaps that’s why tales that revolve around creepy offspring or twisted mother/child relationships have always had a unique ability to chill us to our core. A24‘s latest horror release, The Hole in the Ground, continues this tradition with its spin on a “changeling” folk-story, managing to elicit a fair amount of creep factor despite a plot that’s not necessarily groundbreaking nor particularly deep.
Hole revolves around a newly single mom, Sarah (Seána Kerslake), and her son, Chris (James Quinn Markey), who move to a remote house in the Irish countryside only to discover their backyard forest is home to a mysterious, gigantic sinkhole. One night, Chris disappears into the forest and then reappears, and afterwards, to the keen eye of his mother, he appears subtly changed. Nothing major, just little things like a cold, dead stare and a new-found taste for eating spiders, that sort of thing. After a further series of strange occurrences and odd behavior Sarah begins to fear that whoever or *whatever* returned from the forest that night may not actually be her son at all.
Certainly no movie of this sort would work without a convincingly creepy kid, and Vikings actor Markey delivers a fine enough performance that might have you looking under your bed before you settle in, lest he come scuttling out from underneath. Kerslake, meanwhile, proves a solid anchor as the paranoid mom whose child just might have been replaced by a monster. Unfortunately, once Sarah comes around to the conclusion that Chris is no longer her son, the plot doesn’t really take off enough from there to truly stick its landing, which ultimately holds The Hole in the Ground back from joining the same league as some of its sister films like The Babadook and Under The Shadow.
It’s apparent that Irish writer/director Lee Cronin is a horror fan, as his feature debut here is sprinkled with homages to other films like The Shining, whose influence is noticeable in the Sarah/Chris relationship and in various visual and audio cues – one scene even incorporates the design from the Overlook Hotel hallway carpet. Other films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers are called to mind as well, and there’s a point near the end of the film where it rides an extremely fine line between paying homage and being overly derivative (The Descent, I’m looking at you.)
However, there are some creative little creepy moments throughout, a fair amount of tension and some lushly spooky (gorgeous, tbh) visuals that distinguish The Hole in the Ground from its many influences, elevate it beyond its sort of hum-drum plot, and establish Cronin as an interesting new voice in the genre. In other words, this might not be the next Babadook… but you still might get Baba-shook.
The Hole in the Ground doesn’t break a ton of new ground, but its creepy and atmospheric enough to make it worth digging into.
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5