The Hole in the Ground (2019)
Written by Lee Cronin and Stephen Shields
Directed by Lee Cronin
Sarah has moved to a wooded corner of Ireland with her son Chris to restart their lives. Something terrible happened months ago leaving Sarah with a concussion and scar. She is worried about Chris who doesn’t want to talk about but otherwise seems like a normal nine-year-old. While exploring the woods nearby, Sarah comes across a frightening large bog, a sinkhole that is slowly swallowing the earth around it. She warns Chris to stay away, but one night it appears he sneaks out of the house. The next day his behavior has changed and slowly but surely creeping paranoia sets in. It doesn’t help that Noreen, an elderly neighbor suffered a complete psychological breakdown decades earlier, reportedly screaming about her son not being her child, but something else, something sinister.
The Hole in the Ground is not a new exploration of cinematic territory, and it wears its influences on its sleeves. There are cinematography and story beats that recall The Shining, The Babadook, The Ring, and many other horror classics. For as derivative as the movie is, it’s a robust technical achievement for a first-time feature film director. The choices made for setting the mood are perfect, and very quickly the audience feels its in a bleak and dangerous space. There’s never a missed tonal beat, and it’s clear that Cronin knew the atmosphere he wanted through the picture.
The story keeps things simple and never tries to go for the lazy twist. If you are knowledgable about folklore to any degree, then the changeling concept won’t be hard to spot. By going for a straightforward horror idea, Cronin can spend more time ratcheting up suspense and tension. There are genuinely great moments of horror in this movie. One sequence involves Sarah spying on Chris through his bedroom door keyhole and then by peeking underneath the crack in the bottom of the door. The decision of what we will see and what will be obscured was incredibly well done. When she flees, and he seeks her out in the house, she’s kept focused in the foreground while Chris is blurred in the background. These little visual distortions keep that uneasy sense going.
The cracks start to show when you focus in on the emotional aspects of the script. The plot is there, but feeling the conflict in Sarah, the doubt and the questioning, the movie falls flat. I would have liked to have seen more genuine psychological turmoil as Sarah’s situation becomes increasingly more evident. Either put us entirely in Sarah’s shoes, so we buy into the supernatural nature of the imposter in her home or make us objective outsiders seeing her as an unstable person. Then as the plot unfolds, constantly create tension on the opposite end of the perspective you’ve given us. The best thing in movies like these is that the audience feels doubt first in the protagonist and then on their read of the situation until the filmmaker reveals the truth.
The Hole in the Ground is a decent horror picture that shows some great promise. In terms of the great horror debuts of the decade, it doesn’t reach the heights of Ari Aster on Hereditary or Robert Eggers on The Witch. However, it did leave me interested in following Lee Cronin’s work and watching his development because I sense there is a spectacular horror movie in his future.