One of the more prevalent staples of the horror genre is the creepy kid, whether he be the son of Satan, as in The Omen, or a whole brood of them, such as from Children of the Corn. No matter what, there is something inherently horrifying about kids — even ones not in horror movies — and once again, this trope is explored with writer/director Lee Cronin’s The Hole in the Ground, sadly without bothering to add anything original to the genre.
We are introduced to Sarah O’Neill (Seána Kerslake) and her son Chris (James Quinn Markey) while visiting a carnival, where we see them making faces in a funhouse mirror, giving us a little foreshadowing of the twisted duality yet to come, and as the story unfolds, we discover that Sarah had moved to this particular hamlet to escape her abusive husband, with whom she had a son. Will this film touch on the drama of spousal abuse and the effects it has on the children? Nope, that carrot is dangled for about a half a second before being cast aside so that we can have horror trope after horror trope rolled out as if on some kind of evil train schedule.
• Sarah and Chris meet a crazy lady (Kati Outinen) who may or may not have murdered her son for “Not being her son.”
• They’ve moved into an isolated farmhouse next to a dark forest that contains a massive sinkhole.
• The farmhouse has your standard spooky basement with flickering lights.
• Sarah will be plagued by nasty visions and nightmares.
• Chris will start acting oddly while giving Sarah creepy blank stares.
• Friends and doctors will “pooh-pooh” her belief that Chis is not her son.
The basic premise of The Hole in the Ground is that Sarah’s young son has been switched out for a doppelganger — or a changeling, if you are up on your folklore — and at times, it looked to me like director Lee Cronin was trying to make a dark psychological horror film, exploring the nature of motherly bonding while also dabbling in dark fantasy. Sadly, this was not the case, and instead, the end result was a tedious mess that never seemed sure of what it wanted to be or say. When Sarah started to suspect things may not be all right with her son — him going from being afraid of spiders to eating them being a big red flag — she doesn’t do much in the way of constructive investigating, other than hiding a camera in the kid’s room and confronting the husband (James Cosmo) of the crazy lady who murdered her own son, but none of these scenes go anywhere.
A key part in the balancing act of the horror genre is keeping your protagonist’s behavior somewhat believable; there can be only so many instances causing such questions as, “Why are they still in that house?” or “Who checks out a dark basement in the middle of the night?” or “Why is she diving into that fucking massive sinkhole?” Yet in Cronin’s The Hole in the Ground, we find the protagonist doing maybe one intelligent thing but then completely undermining it by doing the most insane and stupid thing the very next minute.
Stray Observations and Spoilers:
• It’s stated that a changeling’s reflection reveals their true nature, and we do see an evil creature in the mirror when Sarah tries to verify if her son is truly a monster, but if that’s the case, shouldn’t it be easy to prove to others by just hauling her kid before witnesses — friends, doctors, even the bloody police — and placing a mirror in front of the little monster?
• Sarah confronts the creature that is impersonating her son, after catching him out on the fact that it doesn’t know her son’s favourite game, which results in the monster proceeding to toss her around like a rag doll. Now, Sarah did plan a little ahead for this outcome — a rare moment for her — as she had drugged the kid’s dinner. Unfortunately, it was one of those slow-acting drugs that results in her being buried head-first in the front yard before finally taking effect, but once she is able to drag his evil ass down into the basement, she doesn’t bother to tie him up, which then results in her being attacked again.
• She then heads out into the forest to find her real son, which involves diving into the sinkhole with nothing but a flashlight. Now I know a mother’s love for her child is a powerful force, able to draw on almost supernatural strengths, but maybe one should have taken a breath and thought this through — maybe write a pros and cons list — before jumping into an unknown environment, with no weapon of any kind, in the slim hope you will find your son. We can almost buy this impulsive act — and the actress does manage to sell the moment — but when she easily escapes from a horde of these monsters, with her unconscious kid in tow, I called bullshit.
The Hole in the Ground is wonderfully shot by cinematographer Tom Comerford, and the music provided by Stephen McKeon sets the mood brilliantly, but these are just two elements in service of a rather pedestrian story that brings nothing new to the genre. I’m not expecting every film dealing with this particular subject matter to be Guillermo del Toro Pan’s Labyrinth, but a little extra effort in your world-building can really make a difference. Cronin’s film isn’t altogether terrible, and the two lead actors did their best considering the script given to them, but it’s the wasted potential that bothered me the most.
The Hole in the Ground (2019)
Movie Rank - 5.5/10
Lee Cronin’s The Hole in the Ground dances around the premise of a dark horror fantasy but then it pulls back and instead gives us a collection of sad horror tropes with originality being the true victim here.