Joe Dante is widely hailed as a true master and legend of cult horror films, making flicks of the genre that can appeal to both adults and children alike. His near 40-year-long filmography contains such classics as the original Piranha, The Howling, Small Soldiers, The 'burbs, Innerspace, Gremlins and its silly sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch. He's a man who makes fun movies for fun-loving audiences, and I'll be damned if he ever makes a feature that isn't up to a high standard. I'm ignoring Looney Tunes: Back in Action, I might add.
His newest flick - shot in 3D - is another kid-friendly tale of legitimate spookiness that delves into the darkest fears of its young main characters. The Hole relies on tension and suspense to send a chill up viewers' spines, unlike certain recent "horror" puke-munchers that tear their cast members limb from limb in desperation for some gory shock value. Piss off, will ya?
We start with two brothers, 17-year-old Dane and 10-year-old Lucas Thompson (Chris Massoglia and Nathan Gamble), moving into their new home in the quiet town of Bensonville with their single mother, Susan (Teri Polo). Dane, who claims to be fearless and is not especially happy about the move, quickly develops a crush on the young neighbour, Julie (Haley Bennett). In other words, he sees cleavage on display and he likes it.
While taunting Dane about his feelings of affection for the scantily clad girl, Lucas is chased by his brother into the basement, where the two discover what looks like a trap door on the floor. Their heads pumped with horror movie stupidity, they unlock the surrounding padlocks to find themselves staring down into what seems to be a black, wide, bottomless hole. I could easily make a bad-tasted joke about some slutty female celebrity here, but I'm not going to.*
With the help of Julie, they investigate the pit using a torch, a video camera to film inside it, and dropping objects inside to see how deep it is. Hint: very. Soon enough, creepy things begin to happen, with strange, eerie happenstances occurring around the house and wherever they go. The trio begin to suspect that they have unleashed a doorway to another world, or one to Hell itself.
I have a small warning for those wishing to take their littluns to see The Hole, as the film is surprisingly rather scary. Youngsters will most likely be terrified by images of a murderous, grinning clown doll sneaking around, and injured ghosts wandering about the house, one with his brain visible through the back of his head. A small, grey-faced, one-shoed, limping little girl who cries tears of blood comes to mind as a chilling highlight; she freaked even me out. And I'm a big boy.
Along with screenwriter Mark L. Smith (Vacancy), Dante has crafted a film that's both lighthearted and ominous, excellently balancing scares with laughs, much like my favourite of his, 1984's Gremlins. Although The Hole has a few pacing issues and some subplots in need of expansion, it's refreshing to see the 63-year-old back in the business of scaring up the kids.
As the eldest of our two male protagonists, Massoglia is a tad wooden, his performance unconvincing in terms of acting genuinely scared, but that doesn't stop him from falling into the hole of likeability. Dane is a mopey adolescent who's gotten in some trouble in the past - rebelling against his sweet workaholic mother, I suppose - and has an axe to grind with his incarcerated, abusive drunk of a father.
His younger brother, however, is much more optimistic about things and is excited about the new home. Gamble (who starred in The Dark Knight and The Mist) superbly outshines both Massoglia and Bennett as the blonde-headed, smart, sparky youngster with a phobia of clowns. Confident, sexy girl-next-door Julie is played charmingly by Bennett, adding a quirky sense of humour, as well as a hint of a troubled past, to the film's love interest. "Is that what you do for fun in Brooklyn?" she says. "Play with your holes?"
On their quest to stop the evil seeping out of the hole, the trio come across the previous owner of the house, menacing oddball Creepy Carl - who Dane keeps calling Freaky Freddy by mistake - played by Bruce Dern. The guy's sadly only in two scenes, definitely underused, but the Silent Running actor is perfect as a raving lunatic who knows the horrors of the hole all too well.
Shaky pacing aside, The Hole is an intensely entertaining kid-friendly horror that all the family can enjoy. It's not quite Gremlins, but Dante shows that he still has a lot of juice left in him as a young-at-heart filmmaker, directing the film to a satisfying conclusion. It's a hole lotta fun. Come on, I had to.