Monday, March 04, 2019

Who Doesn't Love a Good Hole

Isn't there a cartoon where somebody (in my head it's Bugs Bunny) digs through to the other side of the Earth and everybody's upside down? (I'm fairly certain they're also a bunch of racist Chinese stereotypes but I'm avoiding that, since I'm starting this review already on a tangent and we don't need to wander off any further.) The opening credits of Lee Cronin's The Hole in the Ground, A24's latest indie horror flick of note, imagine that conceit as art-house discombobulation, and it's a terribly effective foot to get off on. Simple to boot! 

We watch a car, somehow as laden with doom as the Torrances making their way through the mountain passes at the opening of The Shining, head off topsy-turvy into its own wilderness -- the deep dark woods of Ireland. And to anybody who's been paying attention to the horror genre lately you know -- no good comes from that place! Filled with malevolent faeries and the mossy gunk of Celtic myth, the deep dark woods of Ireland is where Nature festers its unholy and ancient revenge, and human beings in the new millenium have got that coming to 'em, and then. Some.

Sarah (Seána Kerslake) and her son Chris (James Quinn Markey, already an unsettling amalgamation of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense & Miko Hughes in Pet Sematary even before he starts sucking down spiders spaghetti-like) are escaping an abusive husband and father, although Chris seems unaware of it -- Sarah, in a lie of terrible foreboding, tells her son their father is right behind them. One pictures a shadow, a storm cloud. Darkness at their heels. So they head off to a small town where they can restart their life, which never goes wrong in these movies -- they end up perfectly happy, the end!

No slowly past scars, both figurative and literal, begin to manifest -- there are strong echoes of The Babadook as we begin to wonder if Sarah and her fragile mental state might be the problem, not the solution. There's no escaping that sinking feeling -- especially when the metaphor takes shape (damn horror movies, always with their metaphors taking literal shape!) as a sinkhole, pulsating in the center of the forest like... well, at one point Chris tries to get away with swearing by replacing "ass-face" with "anus-face" and let's just say that it turns out that Ireland's got a hell of an anus-face.

And it's not too long after being exposed to this, you know, great big vertiginous hole, that Sarah begins to notice a change in her son. He suddenly spends a lot of time closed up in his room making grunting sounds. He picks up all of his toys and put them in color-coordinated jars on his shelves. He starts buttoning his shirts all the way up neatly, pairing them with stylish little sweater sets, and he combs his hair for hours, getting it just right.

And some day, when someone isn't busy trying to cram too many ideas into a somewhat palatable review, somebody should write something about how this gigantic pulsing asshole in the woods could might just maybe linked to Freud (cough anal phase cough) and how Sarah's mounting terror, swallowing her from the bottom up, is of her son becoming quite actually a fairy.

Now's not the moment for all that, not after just one viewing in, so let me just say that The Hole in the Ground is a stellar little surprise box of frights, with emotionally honest performances from both Kerslake and Markey, while also being entertainingly sledgehammer heavy with its gotcha moments. Jump scares, body slams, and key-hole tricks, the un-bricking of crumbling walls and the trapping of bad things in the basement -- hell Sarah even scrapes up some yellow wallpaper for good measure! It's all way on the nose, but it's a handsome nose, a big one that's been broken in all the right places. I shall study its attractive shape at length.


Anonymous said...

RE: The cartoon where they dig through the earth, it's the Wile E Coyote episode "War and Pieces" - it's up on Dailymotion! And yes, there is an offensive Chinese roadrunner at the other end.

Jason Adams said...

THANK YOU SO MUCh for that, Anonymous. it was gonna drive me crazy