If you think back to the films of the 1980’s, it’s a pretty good bet that one of those films you may recall, was directed by Joe Dante.
Whether it was about werewolves (The Howling), cute-yet-scary critters (Gremlins), or even suburbia (The Burbs), Dante always fused his films with a certain amount of real-world sensibilities, but skewed slightly with a strange Looney Tunes-style level of kookiness.
In 2009, Dante unleashed his second feature film of the 21st century, titled The Hole. However, it didn’t get a full-on theatrical release in the U.S. Strange as it seems, with past hits under his belt, Dante was unable to find any film studios willing to release his PG-13 film here. While the film had non-US releases in 2010, its showings in our country were relegated to film festival screenings.
Dante also made The Hole his first 3-D feature film. There are some shots where you can instantly tell that 3-D was evident. It is rather odd, that given the 3-D fever in the wake of Avatar, no studio was willing to snatch this one up (yet they were eager to quickly post-convert trash like Clash of the Titans to 3-D).
Which brings us to today, and the films release to home video.
After moving to a small town with their Mother (Teri Polo), brothers Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) find a wooden door in the floor of their basement, with six locks on it. Thinking there might be treasure inside, they instead find a dark hole, which after some testing, appears to be bottomless. The two brothers soon share their secret with their attractive neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett), but what soon seems to be nothing…very soon becomes something.
Much like his film The Explorers, Dante keeps much of the film’s focus on his young leads, putting the adults as far in the background as possible. Dane is portrayed as a little angsty and guarded, while Lucas attempts to get him to come out of his ‘too-cool’ shell. Of course, it helps that Dane isn’t bad-looking, and Julie quickly starts showing him around the small town.
Overall, the story does start out a little slow, but that can be seen as a good thing, as we need to establish who our main characters are. Once we move into the second act of the film, this is really where Dante hits us with the jeeps and the creeps. However, it is when we start veering into the third act, that the film hits the point of make-or-break. For me, it broke. I was getting intrigued, until the characters began to spell out the logic of The Hole, and I found myself thinking, “Oh no, not that.”
I hadn’t seen much of Massoglia or Bennett prior to the film, but I recalled Gamble from Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist in 2007. His portrayal of Chris in the film comes across well for a co-starring position. What also helps is they don’t make out Dane and Chris’ relationship as a good brother/bad brother one. There is a level of caring each of them has, but like any siblings, there are plenty of times they don’t see eye to eye, which definitely helps.
The Special Features
I managed to get an early copy of the film on DVD, and right away, I was a little disappointed that what seemed to be a key prop in the film, not only appeared on the DVD spine, but right in the center of the main DVD menu.
promotional critiques aside, the DVD release of The Hole contains a small smattering of extras.
– The Keyholder (Keeper of The Hole): This brief little featurette shows the cast and crew talking about actor Bruce Dern (The Burbs, Small Soldiers), who plays a character named ‘Crazy Carl.’ Not much to see here, just lots of people talking about how cool and crazy it was to work with Bruce. The funny thing is that Dern almost looks like he’s channeling Doctor Emmett Brown with his wild white hair, and black goggles.
– Relationships (Family Matters): The actors open up about being a family unit in the film, and the crew backs up how real their family bond seems onscreen.
– Gateway to Hell, The Making of The Hole: The most involving special feature in the disc. Pity it acts as the cliffsnotes to the entire film.
– A Peek inside The Hole: A brief featurette talking about how some of the film’s visual effects were achieved.
– Movie Stills: A 2-minute reel showing still images with music playing in the background.
Joe Dante’s The Hole is by no means a bad film. It fits into that mold where the safety of suburban life is compromised by a strange presence or thing, but it feels a little too ‘safe’ that it has to wrap things up in a nice little package.
This year was also the year in which another 2009 film finally was seen by the public, which was Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods. When comparing both films, Whedon’s film was willing to take a concept and stretch it into a new direction. The Hole attempts to hit certain set points for a young person’s scary movie, yet it still needs a little work. Maybe it was the writer getting cold feet and being afraid he’d lose the under-13 audience if the ending was more vague, but it just doesn’t feel altogether satisfactory.
The Hole: The Movie – B
The Hole: The DVD – C