The Hole in the Ground
A young boy walks into a mysterious hole in the ground, and when he returns, his mother feels there's something not quite right about the lad in this effective Irish horror
There are few endeavours horror has found more perilous than motherhood: see the classics Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Omen (1976), and more recently The Babadook (2014), Goodnight Mommy (2014) and Hereditary (2018). For better or worse, mothers in the genre frequently blur the lines between victim and villain. Director Lee Cronin steers a largely familiar course to these touchstones in his compelling feature-length debut, The Hole in the Ground – the follow-up to his award-winning 2013 short Ghost Train.
The young single mother at the centre of the film – co-written with Stephen Shields – is Sarah (Seána Kerslake), who has recently relocated to the Irish countryside with her son, Chris (James Quinn Markey). They take up residence in an old house bordered by an eerie wood where one evening they stumble across a meteor-sized hole. Shortly thereafter Chris goes missing, and although he quickly resurfaces seemingly unharmed, his behavior grows so disturbing that Sarah begins to doubt that the boy is actually her son.
The film, sometimes to its detriment, relies on a host of age-old horror conventions: secluded houses, forbidding woods, haunted old women, soul-revealing mirrors and so on. But it’s a remarkably effective tale of fear nonetheless, skillfully atmospheric and winningly steeped in the folkloric. Its sepia-toned cinematography aside, the film does a fine job of grounding us in Sarah’s paranoia, emotional residue leftover from her traumatic relationship with Chris’ father. He doesn't appear on screen, but the father's glaring absence haunts the film and Sarah’s dynamic with her son. For her part, Kerslake delivers a thoroughly engaging performance, and as these roles seem wont to demand of late, a convincingly physical one, too. Markey is appropriately unsettling and James Cosmo strikes a chilling chord as Sarah’s neighbour with a tragic past.
Comparisons to The Changeling (1980) and The Omen may well be inescapable, but The Hole in the Ground still manages to carve out a comfortable space for itself in the genre.
Hole in the Ground screens at Glasgow Film Festival – 21 Feb, Cineworld, 8.45pm; 22 Feb, Cineworld, 1pm
Released 1 Mar by Vertigo; certificate 15