If you ever caught yourself believing the world of movie distribution made sense, I present to you this week’s Netflix pick, Joe Dante’s The Hole. When presented with a family friendly horror helmed by the man who brought us “Gremlins” and “The ‘Burbs” one would assume we’d be looking at a holiday timed theatrical release. Winning formula right? What happened instead was the film being put on a shelf, after positive festival buzz mind you, from 2009 until now, 2012. Dante himself explains this as the side effect of 3-D distribution. While big studio 3-D conversions(*cough Clash of the Titans *cough) filled multiplexes, the smaller budgeted 3-D film, The Hole, found itself homeless, holding up a “will work for a theatrical release” on the side of the distribution highway. While the 3-D version is still unavailable in the U.S., Netflix has luckily decided to pick up this neglected little movie off the side of the road.
The Hole opens with the standard story of a family, comprised this time of a Mother and two children, who move into a new neighborhood in the hopes of a better life. In keeping with the cliche, the teenage son, Dane(Chris Massoglia), is none too happy about this. From here, Dane his younger brother, Lucas(Nathan Gamble), and the obligatory pretty neighbor, Julie(Haley Bennett), find the hole of the film’s namesake in their basement. The rest of the film deals with the bad things that escape that hole and how the children battle them. While the synopsis, and the story itself, doesn’t really break any new ground, the success of The Hole is in the execution of the direction of Joe Dante and the acting of the cast.
This execution leads to a surprisingly effective morality driven fairytale, sprinkled with its fair share of legitimately frightening things. Dante has always shown a talent for balancing between the darkly horrific and the warm, familial worlds, and The Hole is no different. We jump from the silly to the scary, to the downright adorable, and back again. The truly impressive thing, though, is that all of these elements are not only included, but constructed in a cohesive way. Nothing about jumping from scary to adorable feels jarring in The Hole, its quite the opposite actually. With its straddling of all these different stylistic themes, The Hole manages to trigger the awe and nostalgia of horror. For those of us who grew up watching those PG rated horrors it will be hard to not look at The Hole through nostalgia lenses. It often feels like a blended version of The Goonies and the best of the Amazing Stories anthology. This leads to a warm feeling of optimism and joy, making the audience remember why we fell in love with horror in the first place.
That sense of nostalgia isn’t to trivialize how good The Hole is as a standalone film, however. The craftsmanship, pacing, and performances are all top notch here. With all credits and the associated popular nostalgia removed, this film would still stand as a well made horror film. And, refreshingly, it is a horror film at its core. Too often horror is neutered and watered down in films intended for young people. In our attempt to shelter our children we have erased everything that goes bump in the night, hoping to keep children sheltered from it. Dante has no intention of sheltering your children, he understands and respects that children are not idiots and can handle real life themes, even if they’re scary. As a result, The Hole never backs away from its very real moral which, yes, involves scary things. This lack of prepubescent coddling is refreshing and allows The Hole be what it should be: a good horror movie.
Part of being a good movie is having a talented cast. Considering how heavily the film leans on child actors, the performances in The Hole become that much more impressive. Appropriately, the stand out here is the youngest of the performers, Nathan Gamble. His natural delivery and complete earnestness allows the film to traipse through the fantastical with a sense of grounded realism.
The style of Dante on display in The Hole shouldn’t really be a surprise considering his pedigree. This is the man who made the original “Piranha” with Roger Corman and “Gremlins” with Steven Spielberg. The combination of working with both Roger Corman and Steven Spielberg is kind of a perfect explanation of Joe Dante’s work. Part Corman, part Spielberg, and completely fun.