Creaking old house in the middle of nowhere? Tick. Damian-esque child actor? Tick. Creepy old neighbour who likes to appear out of nowhere? Tick.
You could say that Lee Cronin’s feature-length debut The Hole in the Ground owes a lot of its action to tired horror tropes. And, it’s true, he does re-visit several genre clichés throughout the film. But it’s not a film that feels tired or uninteresting … It’s just not necessarily overly scary, either. There are a few bumps in the night and a few moments of all-out, visceral horror, but it’s more akin to the psychological trauma portrayed in The Babadook.
The film’s setting – rural Ireland – is home to enough myths and legends to keep you on your toes every time the wind whistles through the trees. From screaming banshees to Tir Na Nog, this is a country that is very much in tune with the otherworldly.
The film opens with mother and son making silly faces in fun-house mirrors – mirrors and image will be very important later on – before a truly disorientating tracking shot of their 4×4 travelling down a dirt road. The camera literally tips upside down to make for a visually striking, if slightly nauseating shot. A sign of things to come, I had hoped.
Sarah (Seana Kerslake) has moved with her son, Chris (James Quinn Markey) to a relatively isolated old farm house, on the edge of a forest. Escaping her abusive marriage – which has left her emotionally and physically scarred – she’s determined to make a fresh start.
Except, there’s a massive sinkhole in the forest that’s seemingly connected to the chapped-lipped, wild eyed old woman next door who keeps appearing just inches from their car bonnet. Do her psychotic mutterings have anything to do with the swirling crater amongst the trees or are the two just mere coincidences?
I’d argue – despite the film’s title – that the two have almost nothing to do with each other. The script doesn’t give a good enough reason to connect the two. And, in all honesty, when a connection is forced, it results in some pretty silly dialogue and action – kind of how I felt about the last fifteen minutes or so of Hereditary.
Seana Kerslake, as Sarah, is excellent at portraying intense emotions. It almost felt, at times, that what we were seeing was a result of Sarah’s anxiety medication or some sort of PTSD from her marriage. And that was a far more exciting prospect compared to what ultimately unfolded. James Quinn Markey had the perfect sing-song voice that sounded equal parts scary and cute.
To me, this was a film about familial relationships, particularly the bond between mothers and their children. We want to think that our children are reflections of ourselves, whilst still being identifiable as individuals. We don’t want to have raised people with behaviours and thoughts we don’t recognise. This seems like a complex enough subject without adding in the side-plot about the sinkhole.
There are moments of extreme stillness in the film, which definitely added an unnerving edge. Equally, there were moments of outright chaos – and even a few laughs along the way. It felt, at times, like a film that didn’t really know where it wanted to settle; like the wayward Chris, unwilling to accept his new home.
The Hole in the Ground does have some really interesting psychological elements to it and truly brilliant central performances, but it’s ultimately let down by a plot that feels like two different stories stuck together.
The Hole in the Ground is playing at the Glasgow Film Festival 2019.