Sunday, September 13, 2009

Toronto FilmFest Reviews: The Hole

I wish I could review this more thoroughly, but unfortunately, this screening was plagued by technical problems, culminating in someone pulling the fire alarm just as the movie was reaching the climax! And they weren't able to let us see the rest of the movie due to tight scheduling. ARGH!

I'll tell you what I think of what I saw, bearing all this in mind. The Hole is the new movie by Joe Dante, orchestrator of some of the more fondly remembered (but less financially successful) 80s SF, horror and fantasy flicks, many of them kid-skewing: Gremlins 1 and 2, Innerspace, The Howling, and The Explorers. His latest seems to be an attempt to recapture that mode, and it's pretty successful as far as it goes. Dante's made a movie that's kid-friendly yet still effectively scary, which speaks directly to the movie's themes.

The setup is extremely simple. A single mom (Teri Polo, one of those actresses that will have you going "What have I seen her in?!?" every moment she's on screen) moves to a small town with her sons, teenage Dane (Chris Massoglia) and pre-pubescent Lucas (Nathan Gamble). The family is fleeing some unspecified unpleasantness in their past and hopes to make a fresh start. Dane is sullen due to leaving all his friends behind, but at least there's a cute girl, Julie (Haley Bennett) living next door. The three of them soon discover at least one thing to keep their interest: there's a hole in their new basement, one that was shut with a trapdoor and ringed with padlocks, and once opened, appears to be bottomless. This is a decent enough excuse to kill a lazy summer afternoon, but then nasty things start to crawl out of it...

Dante proves here that he still has his finger on what will appeal to kids. There's some awkwardness of the kind that's inevitable when you have a middle-aged man trying to portray kids onscreen, but for the most part, the relationship between the kids rings true...and that's especially so in their reaction to the hole, which is a big part of what makes he movie fun. If you were a kid, and you discovered that your house was haunted, or home to a demonic possession, or something of the like, it would no doubt be creepy and unsettling...but let's face it, it would also be kind of freakin' awesome. Kids love to tell each other horror stories--in a sense, living in one would have its own appeal as well. It's this that makes it downright plausible when the kids find it impossible to leave their newfound portal to hell alone, dropping things in it, doing experiments with video cameras, even following creepy-looking critters that they glimpse coming out of it. Sometimes, of course, it's terrifying, but other times being haunted is just another part of their new lives. As Julie says, "What else is there to do in this town?"

That's what's neat about what I saw of this movie: this is by far the creepiest kid's movie I've seen in ages, even though there's technically nothing here that would make this movie worse than a "PG" that I can see (there's one sort-of gory moment with an apparition, but even that seemed pretty tame to me) and yet I suspect that has the potential to make this film a hit. Kids love to be scared. Joe Dante understands.

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