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THE HOLE in3D (Film Review)Date: 9/18/2009
Author: Glenn Kay
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First things first: it could be as long as a year before Joe Dante’s newest feature, THE HOLE, is released theatrically in North America. Those who are disappointed to hear this news should take solace in the following statement: it will be well worth the wait.
Produced independently by Bold Films and screened for potential distributors in Toronto and Venice (where it won the first ever prize for Best 3D film, beating out such prestigious competitors as Disney/Pixar’s UP), director Dante even expressed some apprehension about interviews and promoting the movie this early. His concern was that by the time The Hole would be finally unleashed on audiences, some might believe that the movie was old and had already been released (hope he doesn’t mind this review). However, with proper marketing, this title should prove more than successful and, like many of the director’s previous titles, appeal to horror fans both young and old.
Buoyed by an effective script by Mark L. Smith (who also penned the hit VACANCY), the tale centers around two brothers (Chris Massoglia and Nathan Gamble) arriving in a new town. After a few scenes of obligatory set up, the boys, along with the help of a neighbour (Haley Bennett) and her yappy Pomeranian, find a chained up hatch in the basement. Naturally, the door leads to an eerie, seemingly bottomless pit. Increasingly bizarre and horrifying events begin occurring as both the kids and audience attempt to determine what is happening and more importantly, how to stop it (at least the Pomeranian doesn’t seem to be directly affected).
As with the director’s other films, the young cast are capable and win the audience over easily as their deepest fears and anxieties are revealed. Despite Dante working with a smaller budget than usual, viewers will find the lighting and visual flourishes impressive. The dazzling but unobtrusive 3D photography is deserving of its accolades and does, in conjunction with the engaging story, seem to place viewers in the middle of the action.
Highlights include a disturbing encounter with a figure behind a bathroom stall and numerous scenes involving a grinning, yet malicious puppet that are sure to establish a clown phobia among a new generation of kids. There are no confusing or eye-strain inducing set-ups, and the camera movement is smooth. For those who still can’t get enough of objects flying out of the foreground and into their faces, a few large items still make their way off of the screen, or are lowered via fishing line through the hole and at viewer’s heads.
Strangely enough, regardless of large doses of black humor, a story featuring young protagonists and little in the way of graphic shocks (although there are a couple of disturbing make-up effects), The Hole is far more effective and flat out creepy than many of its more graphic, visceral contemporaries. At its most suspenseful, the dangers that threaten to consume the leads stealthily stalk their prey and are partially obscured in shadow or off screen, hiding in the darkness and being revealed only at the very height of tension. The much grander than expected score (composed by Javier Navarrete and performed by The Slovak National Symphony Orchestra), adds to the film’s jolt factor during its spine-tingling moments.
On a purely nostalgic level, there are numerous touches and elements certain to remind fans of previous Dante films, like Gremlins and Small Soldiers, without leaving viewers with an unfavorable comparison. There is also an impressively expressionistic terror sequence, lit and shot in a manner visually reminiscent of the director’s segment from TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Sharp eyed will also note the presence of Dante regulars Bruce Dern as “Crazy Carl” and a wordless, yet hilarious cameo from Dick Miller (who came out of retirement for an evening to shoot it). And, of course, those willing to sit through the credits will also be rewarded.
To be honest, it’s not surprising that Dante has made a very good film. What is surprising is just how frightening it is. The 2009 Toronto International Film Festival horror selections have been effectively gruesome and graphic works of entertainment. Yet, this title ranks among the best of the group. A perfect scare film for both kids and adults, THE HOLE is certainly worth discovering.
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