Film review:
The Hole in the Ground

Horror tropes galore but top-rate performances and a genuinely eerie atmosphere

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This effective slice of Celtic noir is a promising feature-length debut from writer-director Lee Cronin, following his award-winning 2014 short film Ghost Train. The promotional blurb compares it to one of last year’s most talked about (and most over-hyped) horror flicks, Hereditary, and what with its spooky child, folklore-inspired horror and themes of family and grief it’s easy to understand why. But thankfully this is a far less convoluted film and all the better for it.

Somewhere deep in rural Ireland, nervy mother Sarah, played brilliantly by relative newcomer Seána Kerslake, takes up residence in a rambling old house in the woods with her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey), hoping to start life anew.

Things start to get weird when Sarah discovers a large sinkhole in the middle of the forest. Chris briefly vanishes, having run off in the direction of said hole, and when he reappears he seems to have turned into the model of the perfect son: polite, loving and eager to please. So polite, loving and eager to please in fact that Sarah, already shaken by the ramblings of a nearby mentally unwell neighbour, begins to suspect that the boy she brought home from the woods is now not her son.

It’s fair to say that the genre roots of The Hole in the Ground are unashamedly on show here. An early aerial shot of a car journey through the forest is right out of The Shining, a reference underlined later when Sarah is seen scraping off wallpaper that has a pattern on it bearing an uncanny resemblance to the carpet from the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s classic movie. Aside from the horror film references there are horror tropes galore thrown at the viewer, including a dark, spooky forest, creaking doors and a dingy cellar with a dodgy light fitting, but the film gets away with it thanks largely to top-rate performances and a suitably eerie atmosphere created by Stephen McKeon’s ominous score and some well placed grim folk horror imagery.

Despite a smattering of wince-inducing gore, there’s also more going on in the film than all-out horror. The opening shot of mother and son staring at distorted reflections of themselves reveals a subtext about the nature of self and monsters beneath the surface. The only hint at Sarah’s troubled past is a deep scar on her forehead, but one infers that all was not well in her past relationship and starts to question what effect this has had on her, her son and their relationship. Indeed, what follows is a film of two halves, the first being an edgy, dark psychological horror that keeps you guessing, and which is clearly the better of the two parts. Here, rattled by both her past and the ominous insights of a woman who was convinced that her own son was an imposter (before she “accidentally” ran him over), Sarah starts to question why her son has suddenly become a Stepford child. Could it be though that she’s tipping into madness and that she is, in fact, the real monster of the tale?

When answers to this question start to come, however, the tension is somewhat dissipated and holes in the plot as large as the one Sarah discovers in the woods start to appear, but by then you’re too involved with the characters to worry about them too much. To say more would be to give away too much about what’s in store, but it all leads to a climax that, while thrilling, doesn’t quite provide the ambiguity that the opening scene of the film plays upon.

The Hole in the Ground is released 1 March, certificate 15

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