In the introductory sequence before the title appears on screen, The Hole in the Ground features a striking shot where the camera is looking down from above on a car driving down a road. Gradually, the camera tilts forward so the road now looks like it’s descending into the earth, and the car is speeding metaphorically along into the titular hole, or else into hell itself.
It’s a striking and unnervingly spooky shot, equally simple in its conceit and effectiveness, but unfortunately it’s also one of the only original sequences in the film. The rest of the movie, from director Lee Cronin, dissolves into near-complete forgettability, eclipsed almost instantly in the viewer’s mind by the movies touching on similar themes that came before it.
Seána Kerslake stars as Sarah, a young mother who’s moved with her primary-school aged son, Chris (James Quinn Markey), out to a remote Irish home in order to start over away from the child’s father, implied to be abusive. One evening, when Sarah cannot find her son, she wanders in the woods near their home and discovers a massive pit. Calling it a “hole in the ground” seems a bit like calling Niagara Falls a “stream near the Canadian border.” It’s a crater, like an asteroid had come crashing to Earth. It is the climax of the Japanese animated film Your Name. And it’s an incredibly interesting visual that only becomes a moderately interesting metaphor.
Cleverly, the film doesn’t show that Chris actually went into the hole. When he re-appears, it’s alongside it, the hole’s pulsating influence implied but not actually explicit. This Chris, though, is somehow different from the Chris that Sarah knows. He’s perfectly polite, his hair is well-combed, but he doesn’t remember the games the two of them used to play. Sarah is plagued by haunting and violent hallucinations of him doing terrible things so that when Chris (or “Chris”?) finally does engage violently against his mother, shoving a wooden table at her, it feels a little underwhelming, especially when compared with horror cinema’s existing glut of creepy child content.
The Hole in the Ground never seeks to differentiate itself from the established horror movie aesthetic: we get creepy jangling lullaby music, a decrepitly old hooded women mumbling to herself ominously, bare feet on creaking wooden floors, broken mirrors. A more interesting version of this film would have focused on the psychological toll on Sarah of wondering if her child is doomed to be violent, whether his father’s abusive DNA is embedded, latent but inevitable, inside of him. A mother’s love is a fundamental truth of the universe; seeing it subverted, like in We Need to Talk About Kevin, is more disconcerting than all of the “creepy child singing” in the world. B-