Creepy children in horror movies are low hanging fruit. From Damien in the The Omen to recent features like The Prodigy, there has never been a shortage of scary toddlers. The Hole in the Ground proves this is more than just an American film conceit. The movie is about a mother who is beginning to have questions about her son. Is it all in her head or does the hole from the title have something to do with her doubts?
The Hole in the Ground is essentially a two person vehicle. Even then, the majority of the heavy lifting goes to Seana Kerslake. Kerslake plays Sarah O’Neill. She and her son Christopher (James Quinn) have recently moved to a sparsely populated part of Ireland. Early on Kerslake, plays the role of doting mother who has more than the usual parental concerns on her mind. Many times before the plot’s central conflict begins, she looks at Chris with askance. As the story progresses, she makes great use of facial expressions. Fear, concern, and confusion are all displayed perfectly by Kerslake. It is a great performance that is more concerned with emoting than acting.
Quinn also does stellar in his role. It seems simple enough. Act equal parts cute and disturbing. Quinn is able to portray the generic ominous kid perfectly. Where Quinn goes beyond the confines of the role is in his acting. Many times, child villains are best with few lines. They simply are too young to be frightening. This can turn the little Big Bad from terrifying to hilarious in a matter of seconds. (Check out Deric McCabe’s painfully bad performance in 2018’s A Wrinkle in Time for a recent example.)
Instead of trying to act scary, Quinn decides to do the most logical thing in order to scare the audience: he acts like a child. It is a smart decision that is the definition of “less is more”. The story itself already has the audience questioning whether there is something wrong with Chris. There is no need for Quinn to overplay the hand he has been dealt.
The writing and pacing of the film are not as consistent. Along with the smart decision to have Chris come off as more threatening through the writing is the how Sarah is handled. It is clear from the beginning that she loves her son very much. Still, it is hard not to notice she seems worried about him even before the introduction of the hole (which can be more accurately described as a crater in the ground). Something obviously is not right.
Writers Lee Cronin (who also directed) and Stephen Shields do a great job of hinting what her concerns may be. Sarah’s father seems to be at the root of the problems. Nothing is ever said outright, but there are many clues that will make the audience form their own conclusions. The best moment illustrating Sarah’s fears is in an early scene involving a spider. This moment also leads directly into the rising action in a nice sequence.
The pacing is also well done for the most part. The Hole in the Ground moves at a more methodical pace than most horror movies. This never negatively impacts the movie since each scene adds more to the plot. Whether it is a bit of storytelling or a chance encounter, there is always something that can be taken away.
The script for The Hole in the Ground may also be its biggest problem. The pacing works well until the third act. At this point, the movie becomes a very generic horror movie. It moves very quickly from one scene to the next. There are flashing lights and loud piercing screams, but nothing of the same substance from the first two acts.
The movie also tries to cram in too much. At first, it is a nice little horror movie with some good character development. It suffers from many tropes and openly uses shots identical to other movies, but it is also inoffensive and entertaining. It then reaches a moment when it is clear it is a giant metaphor for something else. What does it mean? Fear of independence? Starting a new life? Running away from your past? Escaping a patriarchal society? The fact that all of these seem like the right and wrong answer may be the biggest issue.
The Hole in the Ground is a decent little horror movie that bites off a little more than it should. There are some great performances and it is definitely scary. The movie is at its best when it tries to do things its own way instead of doing the same things audiences have seen so many times. Ultimately, whether it is worth your time depends on how willing you are to think about something that in the end does not really matter.