It’s been nine years since Joe Dante has directed a movie (2003’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action), and he hasn’t made a good movie since 1998’s Small Soldiers (another quick side note, if anyone ever insults Small Soldiers in my presence, you will not be pleased with the consequences; that is all) [Editor’s Note: That movie sucked. Do something.] Dante’s claim to fame was and always will be the classic 1984 horror/comedy Gremlins. Sure, by that time he had already directed the Jaws spoof Piranha, but Gremlins was really the thing that put him in the mainstream.
After that, he just kind of dropped off the face of the Earth. While he still directed some stuff, including 1990’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch, looking at his career, is there honestly one film that was as good as the original Gremlins? The ‘Burbs? Runaway Daughters? Matinee? All entertaining movies, sure, but not classic. [Editor’s Note: The ‘Burbs IS a classic. Consider that a correction.] Now, a decade after Dante’s last film, audiences are given The Hole, a blood and gore-lite horror film aimed at the bravest tween viewers.
Dane (Chris Massoglia) has just moved to the small town of Bensonville with his mother, Susan (Teri Polo), and his brother, Lucas (Nathan Gamble). Coming from Brooklyn, Dane and his family have moved around the country multiple times for his mother’s job, and have settled in Bensonville so she can work at a nearby hospital. Initially dreading his new life there, he soon meets his next door neighbor, the cute and fun, Julie (Haley Bennett).
The two become friends after Lucas discovers a mysterious hole in the basement. Guarded by numerous padlocks, the ominous pit has no apparent end. Anything that is dropped into the hole is immediately sucked in and never seen again. Spending most of their days attempting to figure out the origin and power of the hole, Dane, Lucas and Julie experience strange phenomena that tap into their deepest and darkest fears. It’s only after the sudden appearance of a little girl who climbs out of the hole do they realize that it’s the source of their fear and they have to stop it before any other malevolent spirits make their way out.
As one could theorize, The Hole essentially, The Door to Hell is In My Basement: The Movie. Julie even points this out at one point during the movie, something that validated my skepticism throughout. Aimed at a younger audience, The Hole is, for the most part, a pretty routine exercise for horror fans, but serves as a great introduction for children in their young adolescence, especially ones that have taken an interest in what goes bump in the night.
Treating its prepubescent with a little more respect than most kids’ movies do, The Hole can’t help but sometimes feel like a Nickelodeon Halloween special with a couple extra swear words. The characters aren’t written thinly, so to speak, but they’re written with an immediate sense of familiarity and predictability. We know this story, we know where it’s going, and we know how it’s going to end. Despite an initially original premise, The Hole is slowed down substantially by its insistence on appealing to a younger audience.
Joe Dante is a pretty good director, and there are some genuinely creepy moments in this movie, but as soon as things get a little too intense, a quick jump scare pulls whatever character that is in peril, out of said peril, and quickly moves on to the next scene. For instance, a wonderfully shot bathroom sequence that could have ended with something terrifying is cut short by a group of girls that walk in at just the right moment, literally tearing through the tension with their presence. The Hole is filled with moments like this and by the film’s 60th minute, it became a little annoying.
Much like other PG-13 horror films, The Hole never reaches its true potential. Then again, some of the great horror films of the 2000s have been PG-13 and this movie isn’t much more than an attempt at scaring younger kids without really “scaring” them, if you know what I mean. But more than any of that, what makes The Hole so unsatisfying is that it’s not terrible and it’s not very good either, it’s mediocre and repetitive. When there are literally hundreds of horror movies out every year, being mediocre is no longer an option.