Sundance 2019 – The Hole in the Ground

The first three shots are fantastic. A young mother looks on in uncertainty past us, then we see her son in one of those carnival mirrors distorting his face and body, then we cut back and she chooses to be happy and join her son. It gives us so much information about this dynamic so simply, and we’re off. Director Lee Cronin’s debut never quite reaches that level of ecstatic filmmaking though, nor does it quite conjure up anything as terrifying as the boy’s wonky reflection. It just settles for being okay-solid for the rest of the film.

Young mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake) moves with her son Chris (James Quinn Markley) to a remote Irish town near the woods to escape from an abusive relationship. After Chris disappears one night, he reappears but as someone who Sarah does not recognize as her son. She believes he is an impostor, and loses her grip on reality as she tries to figure out what happened to her real son.

Alfred Hitchcock said something along the lines of having two characters talk while there’s a bomb under the table but only the audience knows the bomb is there is a terrific way to build tension. I agree. In The Hole in the Ground though, it’s a complete misfire – you know information whole acts before the characters figure stuff out. It doesn’t work to raise tension, it just makes you sit there waiting for them to catch up to you so the film can keep going. You can see every turn it takes coming from a pretty good distance, and it just kills any tension. Cronin gets over-reliant on the trope of the “dream sequence that snaps back to reality” – after the first two you’re under no illusion that whatever buildup you’re watching is just another dream sequence so it just never holds you in a grip like you wish it would.

There is some great cinematography here by Tom Comerford, some of the more gothic leaning shots that are lit with natural lighting are quite striking. There are parts of this film that make you believe that Mario Bava would have made this film in the 60s if he had the idea. Seána Kerslake is quite terrific, she does what all great horror performances do which is she simply exists in the moment. She authentically sells her character’s fear and decision making. James Quinn Markley is a sufficiently creepy child here, and I won’t ever object to James Cosmo showing up in a genre film.

I don’t want it to sound like I hate this film, I really don’t. There’s definitely some good stuff in this, you just constantly feel like it could have been better. You just keep waiting for it to surprise you and go up another level, but it never quite does. It just keeps settling for status quo.

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