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Review: The Hole In The Ground (Lee Cronin)

Seana Kerslake in The Hole in the Ground

For all that the horror genre may appeal to filmmakers on a limited budget, and to those agreeing to cough that budget up, it also has a regrettable tendency to appeal to those of similarly limited artistic capacity. It's easy, you see, to convince any old audience of guillible teens and less-discerning adults to turn up to see your horror movie, and easy to turn a healthy profit out of such cynical exploits. Here is a genre that has never truly escaped the B-movie connotations with which it and several others were once saddled, styming their potential by diminishing their credibility. Today, when a purpotedly reputable horror movie emerges from the independent production scene, it's typically because it has experienced some success in escaping the derogatory effects of those connotations, and has convinced critics and audiences (discerning or otherwise) of its relative credibility. And so The Hole in the Ground makes its entrance, flanked by decent critical notices, backed by indie distributor du jour A24, declaring itself the product of minds of far greater artistic capacity than one might expect.

In understanding that this declaration is false, my question is not why it is false (such answers are all too plain, all too evident herein), but how said declaration ever came to be made. This is a cheap, conventional, modest Irish horror, the kind of hokey yet not wholly unpolished local work that might have attracted a moderate following in its home territory were it simply released there to far less fanfare, but compare it to other international horror breakouts of recent years, and its low quality is exposed in a most unflattering light. The Hole in the Ground would be easily dismissible were it only setting itself alongside those breakouts, as indeed its familiar narrative beats directly recall titles like The Babadook and Under the Shadow. Yet director Lee Cronin has that kind of overly-referential ambition common not to the refined artistic sensibilities of the Jennifer Kents of the industry but to the many dozens of wannabe shlock purveyors, leaning on what they've borrowed from the masters rather than what they're creating for themselves. It's a bold, deeply misguided move to hearken back so bluntly to genre benchmarks like The Descent or The Ring or - Satan help me - The Shining, though it may also be the only thing saving this movie from utter ignominy.

Solid, professional productions like this are few and far between on such a small scale, which is why it's so odd that The Hole in the Ground even exists as it does - it's the rare low-budget genre movie that's light on originality yet executed with care and attention, albeit with a dull, commercial style that's equally light on artistry. Even the premise is lifted from a plethora of other horror movies: mother and young son move to an old house in the country, son disappears then reappears, exhibits sinister changes only apparent to mother who subsequently begins to question her sanity. You read something like that and must conclude that, for it to have gained this much traction, it must have been carried off with unusual brilliance, indeed like The Babadook (though its premise was altogether less hackneyed). And yet Lee Cronin's feature debut most certainly is not. It's every bit as hokey as you'd expect it to be were it not blessed with the support of a distributor as distinguished as A24, or bolstered by strong reviews from what I can only assume are some less-discerning adults.

Image Credit: MovieStillsDB

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