Director: Joe Dante
Newly arrived in the small town of Bensonville, brothers Dane and Lucas discover a seemingly bottomless hole in the basement of their new house. Shortly after opening the trapdoor which covers the hole, strange things begin to creep out, playing on the fears of whoever stares down into the darkness.
Welcome back, Mr Dante. Where on earth have you been? It’s been seven years since the cinema last saw a Joe Dante movie, and twelve years since it saw a Joe Dante movie that was any good (we’ll just pretend Looney Tunes: Back in Action never happened, okay). Now, at last, one of the 1980s most anarchic filmmakers, who brought us Gremlins, The Howling and Innerspace, has finally returned with something a little more like the Dante of old. The Hole marks a tentative return to form for the director. Sadly, it is only a tentative return.
Dante’s movies were almost always family fare, but with a trademark touch of darkness and insanity. Gremlins is the perfect example. With The Hole, the director returns to this template, fashioning another tale where the kids have all the fun and the adults are largely clueless as to what is going on around them. This set-up and Dante’s recognisable flourishes leave The Hole looking and feeling like a movie from the 80s. No bad thing for those of us who grew up on a diet of films from Dante and his contemporaries, like Spielberg, Landis and Carpenter. The first hour of The Hole is by far the strongest but it is ultimately let down by a weak and sentimental third act which undermines the creepy atmosphere and chills it built up along the way. Also letting the side down is lead actor Chris Massoglia, who delivers a performance worthy of the great Master of Wood, Keanu Reeves. Still there are reliable, if brief, turns from Dante regulars Bruce Dern and Dick Miller to lend class to proceedings.
The modern teenage audience, fed on a stable diet of torture porn and dreary slasher movies, will probably find little to engage them in Joe Dante’s welcome return. This is a film that harkens back to a time when horror movies were more fairy tale than fetish. Dante fans, however, will relish in his trademark, if slightly restrained, mischievousness. Look out for the psychotic clown doll for old school laughs. Flawed but fun, The Hole is like welcoming back an old, childhood friend you haven’t seen in too long. Too bad it falls so completely at the final hurdle.