Director Joe Dante has been responsible for some of my favourite horror films such as Piranha (1978) and The Howling while films like Gremlins and The Hole could be classified as being part of that rare subgenre of Horror/Family films. These are films that have very scary elements, intense thematic moments but are able to dance close to the line of what parents are comfortable with their kids seeing. Now that line has moved greatly since I was a kid as television and home video has exposed children to scarier and scarier stuff over the years, but Joe Dante is still able to capture the thrills and chills that will keep even modern audiences of all ages on the edge of their seats.
The film begins with the Thompson family; Susan (Teri Polo) her two sons Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamle) arriving at their new home in the boring town of Bensonville. They have moved around a lot, much two teen-age and hormone-fueled Dane’s chagrin, resulting in him preferring to brood rather than play with this little brother. There are two things that shake him out of his funk, one is the cute girl next door Julie (Haley Bennett) and the other is that they have discovered what appears to be a bottomless pit in their basement.
The hole was sealed by a trapdoor and secured by six padlocks but because these are kids in a horror film they quickly find the keys and open it. Julie has one suggestion as to what the hole could be.
That Dane doesn’t throw her out of the house after making such an insane comment like that attests to just how cute she is. Dane is afraid that if his mom saw this “freaky bottomless pit” in their new home she’d have them packing faster than you could say “The Divine Comedy” so he decides to keep this from her and do the investigating themselves. I have a soft spot for films that exist primarily in the world of kids, showing them to be smart, brave and resourceful while the adults-only exist on the periphery, much like the grown-ups in Charlie Brown. The Goonies, The Monster Squad and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Joe Dante’s own Explorers would be prime examples of this type.
Lucas is the first to encounter the darkness that comes from The Hole and it is in the form of a creep-ass clown puppet. You see Lucas has a clown phobia, and his older brother does tease him about it, so when he finds this freaky clown doll in his bed he assumes it’s just Dane screwing with him. That is until the doll appears in the basement after he just moved into Dane’s bed, and then it begins to terrorize him.
Meanwhile, Dane and Julie are out seeing the sights of Bensonville and that’s when Julie encounters a spine-chilling little ghost girl in the washroom of the local diner.
It’s pretty clear that The Hole knows what scares you and targets you accordingly. When the trio encounters a ghost girl later in the house, and watch in horror as it crawls headfirst into the pit, they realize that they may be in trouble.
The kids go into full Nancy Drew mode and track down Creepy Carl (Bruce Dern) who was the previous owner of the house, who now lives in an abandoned shoe factory and in a room surrounded by a countless amount of lights. He is not pleased, to say the least, that the locks have been removed from the trapdoor that kept The Hole closed. When the kids ask if he built The Hole and what’s it about, his answer is unnerving.
From that point on the kids kind of want to forget about this mysterious power that seeks to destroy them and just enjoy the summer, but of course, The Hole won’t let them. As the film plays out we will uncover answers to three key questions; What connection does Julie have with that ghost girl? Will Lucas overcome his fear of clowns? And what is it that Dane is afraid of?
Joe Dante’s The Hole has everything you want in a horror movie, good scares centring on well-written characters. The dialogue between the two brothers is fun and believable as is poor Dane’s difficulty in dealing with “girls.” The exact nature of The Hole is never fully explained and is not needed, as forces of evil that strike at you through your fears isn’t anything new to the genre, but Dante hangs this idea on an exciting thrill ride of chills and laughs that is fun for the whole family. Now today the term “Family Film” mostly means “For Children” but not this one, this movie is truly entertaining no matter what your age and I must say it’s nice to see a film about young protagonists and not getting a single fart or piss joke. Thank you, Joe Dante.
And to quote young Lucas…
The Hole (2009)
Joe Dante gives us a exceedingly fun horror film with smart young protagonists that one can identify with, and the horror elements are as effective as anything seen in more “adult” targeted horror movies.