Sarah O'Neill (Seána Kerslake) drives to the Irish countryside with her young son, Chris (James Quinn Markey). A large scar on her forehead is hidden by a fringe of hair, and it's implied that she is fleeing an abusive husband. The house she has rented is next to a forest. Sarah soon discovers that a large sinkhole lies at its center. When they arrive in the village, Sarah almost has a collision with an old woman (Kati Outinen, ‘The Other Side of Hope’) standing in the middle of the road, whose bearish husband, Des (James Cosmo, ‘Wonder Woman’), comes to take her back to their house. A few days and several creepy goings-on later, Sarah has another encounter with the troubled older woman, who warns her that her son is no longer her son...
Lee Cronin and cinematographer Tom Comerfeld clearly expended a lot of effort in crafting a dread-inducing atmosphere and nailing down the look of the film. ‘The Hole in the Ground’ has some neat directorial flourishes, like a close-up of Chris’ hand (viewed from under a closed door) as it crawls, spider-like, across the floor of his bedroom, and the visual connection between the hole and the human iris. The expert use of lighting and framing to obscure some of the more supernatural occurrences in the film and a reliance on practical effects over CGI is also refreshing.
The acting is top-shelf. James Quinn Markey is innocent-looking but unfathomable as Chris (or possibly his evil doppelgänger). Seána Kerslake has an expressive face, with large eyes - all the better for conveying her confusion, uncertainty and dawning terror. Kerslake embodies the dread that would accompany knowing in your gut that your child is not your child, but at the same time not being able to convince yourself of the truth.
The chief weakness of ‘The Hole in the Ground’ is the sheer amount of similarities it bears to other horror films (including a few recent Irish ones). Bryan Bertino’s ‘The Monster’ and Jennifer Kent’s ’The Babadook’ both did a better job with the mother's guilt idea. Sinister toddlers and changelings lurking in the woods of Ireland have already been explored (albeit with a lot less finesse and subtlety) in David Keating’s ‘Wake Wood’ and Corin Hardy’s ‘The Hallow’. Ciaran Foy’s ‘Citadel’ dealt with a parent attempting to raise a child in the aftermath of a traumatic event (and also featured James Cosmo). Even a few of the musical cues are reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ and James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’.
Seána Kerslake has an expressive face, with large eyes - all the better for conveying her confusion, uncertainty and dawning terror. Kerslake embodies the dread that would accompany knowing in your gut that your child is not your child, but at the same time not being able to convince yourself of the truth.
The script (written by Cronin and Stephen Shields) struggles to juggle an inherently interesting premise (is Sarah worried that Chris been replaced by a supernatural entity, or that he has inherited his father’s violence?) with some by-the-numbers, jump-scare moments, as well as a couple of uninteresting or underdeveloped characters. In the hands of a less talented director, this film could have turned out terribly.
Despite its flaws, ‘The Hole in the Ground’ boasts strong direction, cinematography, acting and some eerily effective locations. The sombre, gloomy tone is strong throughout and it holds tension well enough at key points. Lee Cronin is definitely a horror director to watch out for – I just hope that he’ll choose a juicier script for his next project and avoid getting snapped up by James Wan to direct a sequel to ‘The Nun’.