Horror is expanding as a genre. Although your local multiplex is peppered with the usual contenders, look a bit closer at the schedule and you’ll find the latest drama, thriller, or crime offering is closer to horror than you might expect. In this new, bi-weekly series, Joey Keogh presents a film not generally classified as horror and argues why it exhibits the qualities of a great flight flick, and therefore deserves the attention of fans as an example of Not Quite Horror.
When I think back on what scared me as a child, I tend to laugh at how paranoid and crazy I was–there’s nothing to fear in one’s own home, for example. As an adult it’s easier to put those irrational fears aside, with the knowledge that everything is probably going to be okay and the worst thing most likely won’t happen. Joe Dante thinks differently. In The Hole, his first film following a seven-year hiatus, he pitches three plucky kids against a seemingly bottomless hole that somehow knows all about their deepest, darkest fears and is going to thrust them upon them as soon as they’re alone.
Although it was marketed as a kids’ flick, achieving a PG cert in the UK and a PG-13 in the US (where, sadly, it didn’t receive a proper theatrical release), The Hole is a truly terrifying film. It sounds silly, because it’s aimed at children and it has a bit of a Goosebumps feel to it but, when you think back on it, what was scarier than Goosebumps? Or worse, the nightmare-inducing Are You Afraid Of The Dark? Even as an adult, those stories stick in your head. They crawl under your skin and make you question everything.Kids’ horror, as a sub-genre, has changed significantly over the years and it certainly isn’t what it used to be. In our increasingly-PC society, there simply isn’t a market for movies like The Hole anymore. Children can’t take it, we are told, they just scare too easily. However, box office records disagree as, time and time again, gross, borderline scary concoctions such as Paranorman, Frankenweenie and this year’s brilliant The Boxtrolls prove that kids really do want to be frightened.
The Hole kicks off like a standard tween adventure movie: two warring brothers move into a new house, with their very busy mother who’s conveniently never around, only to discover something sinister is lurking beneath that they cannot explain. What sets this movie apart from others of its ilk is right from the outset the tone is dark and brooding–it’s not just a suggestion that something bad is going to happen, it’s an assurance.
There are also some rather clever elements of the unknown that have nothing to do with the hole itself, culminating in the revelation that the family must keep moving because the abusive father (currently serving a lengthy prison sentence) keeps locating them and sending threatening letters. Sure enough, when the eldest brother’s fear is finally revealed, it is their father, presented here as a giant, hulking presence brandishing a big belt in one hand, an image that in itself is an incredibly brave move for a kids’ movie.
Elsewhere, the girl next door is being haunted by a childhood friend who perished at an amusement park (a tragedy for which she blames herself), while the younger brother is terrorized by a clown doll, the SFX for which prove that Dante still knows his way around creepy little cretins. The clown is a remarkably frightening creation, creeping around and leaping across the room with horrifying precision. There are a number of inventive, very tense sequences (a cameo from the great Bruce Dern, who perishes amongst a load of fast-smashing light-bulbs, is particularly noteworthy) but the clown is the real star here.
When the kids eventually venture down, as they must, the set (a nightmarish bedroom/living room) is very well-designed and utterly three-dimensional, even when watched in 2D. There is a paranormal edge to the proceedings, but the family home setting, and the decision to physically create the world lurking underneath it, roots everything in the realistic.
The Hole is a genuinely tense, spooky and atmospheric chiller that taps into the childhood fear of being left alone at home. The score has some Goosebumps-esque flourishes, which may give some indication of who the target market is, however, this is much darker territory. The abusive father angle ensures this isn’t a typically creepy entry into the adventure movie pantheon, or even simply a flick for kids, and instead gives it an almost subversive edge. It may sound slightly childish, but horror often starts at home.