The horror genre has an unspecific little sub-genre we’ll dub the “What’s in…?” style. It functions for a film asking, “What’s in the box?” or “What’s in that creepy, slimy egg?” A film can only be classified as such if the crux of the narrative deals with this central question. Thus, “What’s in The Hole?”
With Joe Dante at the helm, the answer should be family dynamics, snappy humor, monster movie references, and kid-level horror. Oh, and Dick Miller. The Hole has those, just not in a fashion that makes them particularly entertaining. Well, Dick Miller is always awesome, even as a pizza delivery man who only has to offer a quirky look before his cameo is done.
The Hole takes the family routine, placing it in the lens of troubled youth, and then runs it over the audience with a metaphorical bulldozer. Dante’s style generally leaves those elements in the background, or maybe blindsides the viewer in the case of Phoebe Cates in Gremlins. Hole’s entire plot device is a broken family, complete with nifty set work, blown by over extended metaphors.
So what is the hole? It’s, well, a hole. There’s no lying in the marketing unless you prefer to call it a pit. It’s bottomless as the newly moved in brothers Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) discover a locked hatch in their garage. They’re a family on the move, jetting from one city to the next, so this mystery in the pit becomes all they have. In steps the girl next door in Julie (Haley Bennett) to make it a trio, and the film slogs along while peaking in the final 15-minutes.
The Hole fails to maintain interest, a drab family crisis playing out as cliches dictate and production values barely rise above that of a typical prime time drama. It’s clear the effects budget went towards an impressive piece of puppeteering and the skewed perspective set in the closing minutes that becomes one of the few visual bright spots. The town of Bensonville is otherwise as static as it comes.
There’s also the concern over efforts to imbue The Hole with 3D images, causing static camera angles to linger as the kids explore this area in their home, dangling objects in front of the lens. It then breaks down into a lack of cohesiveness later as establishing shots are missing, creating jarring edits as the film moves between locations. There’s less of that ’80s kids charm that The Hole is desperately looking for than there are 3D effects, which are there because marketing says so. Never listen to marketing that closely.
Oh dear. Beginning production in late 2008 on the Red One, The Hole carries with it every conceivable concern one can have when dissecting digital video… aged digital video at that. As the first shots ring out, the intensity of the saturation may be too dominant to take note of the flat, soft texture at play. It’s rare to see live action not only match but beat some of the brightest animated kid’s fare.
Then, the noise happens. Dear god, the noise. It’s more than an instance here or there, and it doesn’t even require a level of darkness. The source becomes utterly absorbed in it, washing the screen with artifacts of various levels. Macroblocking is a concern, banding can creep in, and damning harshness lessens the appeal of the movie overall. Digital has progressed since 2008 (almost alarmingly fast) and it makes The Hole look like a relic.
Black levels will skirt perfection before becoming diluted, off-hue, and lacking in depth creation. When they falter, it introduces additional noise levels into the mixture, the last element this encode needs to take on. Drab interiors leads to bland definition.
The spirit of what digital can do, on occasion, pops out impressively. Camera work is steady enough that issues should be few, and fine detail should soar. Instead, it becomes the exception. Medium shots are wholly unnatural with plastic-y skin features that hardly add to the sense of clarity. The Hole flirts with Handycam footage too, as if the material wasn’t muddy enough. Disc compression doesn’t feel as if it’s tapping out the maximum either.
In a complete, 360 degree turn-around, the audio experience is a blazingly aggressive and dramatically precise experience that changes the core of the film in a lesser environment. With the proper set up, The Hole will engage immediately following some troubled dialogue (muffled slightly) after the opening. Ambient effects are high in the basement as the kids move boxes, with creaky floors and groaning from the commotion. The sense of place is spectacular.
Rarely are surrounds this precise, with perfect tracking as a puppet comes to life and begins chasing the family’s youngest. Objects are knocked over and roll into another channel, or the stereos will pick up the slack after the surrounds to complete the motion. Even minute details that other films leave in the front, say a video game on the TV as the camera zooms on the player, exists in the rears to match visuals. Is it a little cheesy? Sure. A ton of fun? Absolutely.
Signifying the arrival of the hole’s inhabitants is a grumbling, room filling bass, sort of a mixture between a grisly musical cue and long heartbeat. It can be suffocating at reference volume, doubling on the horror which is great since so little is created otherwise. You’ll always know something is near.
Extras come off as rushed filler, dealing with plot recaps and clips from the feature more often than valuable, informative material. The Keyholder visits a main set along with the character that inhabits the domain. Family Matters discusses characters as if you didn’t just watch the movie. A making-of is pure promo for 12-minutes. A selection of stills is followed by the only decent piece here on the effects work titled A Peek Inside the Hole.