Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Movie Appraisal: The Hole (2009)

I didn't know this was a Joe Dante film until after the movie was done. In retrospect I probably could have guessed. It's very much his style of film, with very similar themes to other movies that I've seen directed by him. But I'm starting off kind of strange, talking about the director of this film when I have a movie to review. So, let's jump down the bottomless hole and see what lies beyond the darkness.

I talk about Joe Dante because I tend to like his films (the very few I've actually seen), and this one is no exception. I loved (LOVED!) this film. It was great from beginning to end with excellent set-ups, a great plot, amazing characters, and a weird horror-comedy fantasy plot that actually made me both pull back from the screen at times and laugh at others. It was really a brilliant film. If you're reading this review right now and haven't seen this flick, just stop reading and go watch this film. Yeah, it has 3D in the title (because it was filmed in 3D) but don't let that throw you off watching the movie (or entice you to watch it either because 3D is generally horrible). The 3D didn't add or subtract from The Hole though. I didn't even notice it until after I started to look stuff up for this review and noticed that the movie was filmed in 3D and yeah...

The acting is amazing by the way. Yes, there are hiccups from time to time, but for the most part it works. The kids are kids. I mean, hell some of the things Dane (played by Chris Massoglia) did, I did myself when I was his age. And it all worked quite well. His performance, although a little wooden at times, really showed a character with depth and maybe some vulnerabilities and a whole lot of loneliness bottled up inside of him. He latched onto the female lead, Julie (played by Haley Bennett), and their chemistry together was fun to watch. Haley Bennett does a great job here as well, showing a range of emotion (maybe not the greatest range, but still a range) and a character that does feel well-rounded despite how little you know about her. Finally there is Lucas (played by Nathan Gamble who was the kid in The Mist.) who acts well beyond his years, having quite possibly the best comic timing and some of the best acting in the movie. The dynamics between Dane and Lucas is really the whole driving point of the movie, and kind of the take home message is that these two didn't really like one another at first, but eventually came together as brothers. It was sweet, well thought out, and well executed. Honestly, all three lead characters have great chemistry with one another, and the quality of their acting was certainly enhanced by acting against one another. I can't even say enough good things about the acting here. I felt that they were kids, and that's something I see so rarely in films like this. Usually the kids in a movie feel like anybody else, mostly like adults writing a kid, but here the kids feel like regular kids and act like regular kids, and it is absolutely a joy to behold.

The story is simple enough, a mother (played by Teri Polo) and her two sons move to a new town to get away from her abusive ex-husband, who is currently locked away in a prison in New Jersey. She gets a new job at a hospital and the boys have some free time to do anything they want to do. It's summer after all, so there are plenty of things to do, right? Well, no. Dane misses his friends and seems to really hate on his young brother, Lucas. He sees his pretty next door neighbor and starts watching her in the most socially awkward way possible, drawing her, and probably actively thinking about maybe possibly dating her. I-I... I don't know... I guess that's what I would be thinking if I had ever been in his shoes... which I haven't been... or... uh, probably haven't been... more than likely... Look, I understand what the dude's thinking, all right? Stop looking at the page like that. It's unbecoming of you.

Anyway, Lucas, being a little snot-nosed punk, goes on the warpath when Dane won't play with him and starts talking to the pretty neighbor girl, Julie, on his own, much to Dane's embarrassment and chagrin. He grabs Lucas to pull him away from talking to Julie, and starts beating the little booger up in the basement only to find...


Well, they start messing around with this latched door on the floor of their basement, finding it padlocked with, I believe, six separate locks. They find the keys hidden away, and Dane undoes the locks only for them to find a bottomless hole. Julie comes in to see if they've killed one another or not, and stares in amazement at the odd hole herself. They mess around with it even more, sending items into the abyss and filming to see if they would find anything of interest, but they don't see anything of note besides a BOTTOMLESS HOLE UNDER THE HOUSE.

They treat it like a passing interest. Hell, I would probably do the same thing if I found a bottomless hole. I'd send stuff down there, try to tape it, write a blog about it, and ultimately get bored with it and forget about it. Such is my existence, making even the outright bizarre and creepy more mundane than a plain potato. Honestly, I like this part of the movie. The kids act like kids, not like adults writing for kids, which is something I really have to point out as a positive aspect of the film. The kids play around with the hole, and scare themselves... but ultimately... well, the hole wasn't empty... and whatever it was that was down there is coming for them...

I like the claw marks on the inside of the latched door. I like the locks disappearing, the ghostly noises Julie hears at night, the uncanny valley clown puppet that scares the crud out of Lucas, and I like the aesthetics. I like how the tension rises throughout the movie, and I like both the scarier moments and the funnier ones. I like how the scary moments were actually scary and the moments meant to be funny were actually amusing. It's a rare film that can pull off completely different tones from one scene to another and do so flawlessly, and this film does it amazingly. I couldn't stop watching this movie. I couldn't pause it, and I didn't want to pause it. I was totally engrossed in everything with this movie, especially the world of the movie. It simply impressed me to no end to see something that felt like it could have been real.

Anyway, the hole lets out your greatest fears, which you either overcome... or well... don't. And it works quite well showing off itself as both a effective horror movie and as an effective comedy-horror flick. There were certainly moments when I found myself slightly creeped out by what was going and other moments where I was rolling my eyes at the absurdity of the situation. But I think that was the point, to show us just how ridiculous some fears can be. Having a fear of creepy clowns eventually will point out just how ridiculous it is to think that a clown doll can overpower even a child. Fear of an abusive father becomes a ridiculous thing, showing that his own domination over those weaker than him makes him smaller and less intimidating. Showing a little ghost girl and pointing out that she's not some terrifying bogeyman, just a scared little girl who didn't want to die and misses her life... it really works for this movie. It shows the strength of the film through deconstructing fears and what makes a person afraid... also overcoming those obstacles. It's, in some ways, a coming of age story, with each of these characters putting something aside, growing as characters and as people. The development is fantastic, bordering on some of the best character development I've ever seen in a ninety minute movie.  I loved that aspect of the film. It was probably the most appealing thing to me about it, and something I definitely won't soon forget.

 The movie looked amazing as well, not necessarily because it was in 3D either. It looked like a lot of care was put into making the sets, the trapdoor, and the trippy dream sequence kind of thing at the end. I was really impressed by the visuals throughout the film though. I think they'll have a lasting impression on me. The pool scene looked like some of my memories of hanging in a pool or near a pool with high school friends. The basement scenes looked like they were taking place in a creepy basement, but the visuals changed just as soon as the scenes shifted to outside of that basement. The little ghost girl looked like she was made with some kind of stop-animation, and it worked so well, making her seem very creepy and very out of place, like she couldn't work in the real world. It gave the movie a definite fantastic edge that I thought worked incredibly well int he movie's favor.

Anyway, this was a brilliant film that I would recommend to everybody. It works as a family film oddly enough, despite the horror. There isn't much in the way of bad language or gore, and the sexual themes, if you could call them that, are no worse than anything you could see on the Disney channel, for example. (Not that I watch that channel, mind you, just that I've seen my younger cousin watching it and know the stuff on it.) I also find it funny that, although a relationship is hinted at, nothing ever happens between Dane and Julie. Their relationship has an innocence to it that you wouldn't expect, and I really enjoyed that. It happens so rarely that a simple innocent relationship can leave a lasting memory, but it was so much stronger than relationships usually are in these kinds of movies, you know the ones I'm thinking about. The ones that are all about sex and sexual interest and having the female lead lose as much clothes as possible. I don't mind those kinds of films, but I like the innocence here. It's done so rarely, in my opinion, that it really does matter when it's done superbly.

In general I would seriously say that anybody could enjoy this film even despite it's kind of cult film feel. I think it can appeal to a very wide audience, much like Gremlins. Joe Dante did a great job making another film that should be a classic. I'm only sorry to say that I hadn't even heard of the film before I saw it, which is a real travesty. So, I'm giving a glowing recommendation of this film. I really enjoyed everything about it, even the sometimes slightly off acting. There was a charm to this movie that very, very few movies have to them outside of Terry Gilliam movies, Joe Dante movies, and some random '80s and '90s flicks that I look back on nostalgically. I was impressed by this movie so much that I can't even stop smiling about it. Check it out. Find it. Watch it.


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