I’ve got a Love/Hate relationship when it comes to Irish cinema. While I like to root for the home team, I can’t ignore the fact that we’ve been making the same five films for years. That’s not even hyperbole on my part. Go and look it up on IMDB, we’ve been doing it since the 1980s. The fresh stuff is being turned out in the short film category, where director Lee Cronin cut his teeth. So now with a feature budget, can he bring a breath of fresh air to Irish cinema with The Hole in the Ground (2019)?
Eh, sort of.
Having recently moved to a townland in rural Ireland, mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake) and young son Chris (James Quinn Markey) try to settle into their new, old home. After nearly committing vehicular manslaughter on disturbed pensioner Noreen Brady (Kati Outinen), the pair explore the woods next to their home only to find a massive sinkhole in the middle of the forest. And rather than phone the DOE, Sarah opts to ignore it. After disappearing one night, a frighten Sarah finds her son alone and seemly unhurt. In the following days and weeks, however, do things turn darker as she notices subtle changes. The type only a mother would pick up on. It’s only when Noreen’s husband Des (James Cosmo) tells her his families’ story that Sarah sees her own experiences reflected in it and that she must act.
Hole is crammed with so many horror tropes it threatens to rip at the seams. Oh, the setting is lifted from Irish folklore, but we’ve seen this type of film a hundred times or more. Creepy kid, vulnerable parent, supernatural threat, crazy neighbour, end scene. The story is nothing new and follows the same narrative trajectory of sinister children films. The questioning of Sarah’s mental health, the ominous foreshadowing by the neighbour’s actions, finding the proof of paranormal shenanigans.
But while it hits all the same notes, it does change the arrangement up somewhat.
Hole has its tropes, but Cronin films them in such a way to add originality to them. Cronin and cinematographer Tom Comerfeld perfectly capture the feeling of isolation and anxiety on screen in the most striking and straightforward ways possible. There is a Hitchcockian level of framing that maximises the uncanniness of the scene. It is this, along with a rhythmed building pace that adds layer upon layer of tension that makes Hole an unnerving film. It is, thankfully, short of jump scares and lets the unease build in the viewer naturally over the runtime.
Hole, at its core, is a film about loss. Loss of a child, loss of mental health, loss of your grip on reality, highlighted by Sarah’s ever-growing isolation from everyone around her. Hole does make you question Sarah’s reliability as a narrator. The story of her past relationship with Chris’s father is only ever hinted at being traumatic, though this is less forgotten plot thread and more Iceberg theory. In many ways, the behaviour Chris is exhibiting is behaviour Sarah wanted him to show, only much more aggressive as he grows. A parent is watching their child’s loss of childhood and what that implies.
In every scene he’s in, Markey’s Chris steals the show and hats off to Cronin for getting a child actor to be creepy rather than just play it.
Hole is a well-made film. There is no taking that away from them, but it needs a stronger story to lift it out of its…well hole.
Dir: Lee Cronin
Scr: Lee Cronin, Stephen Shields
Cast: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen, James Cosmo
Prd: Conor Barry, John Keville
DOP: Tom Comerfeld
Music: Stephen McKeon
Country: ROI, UK
Runtime: 90 minutes
The Hole in the Ground is available On DVD, Blu-ray & Digital Download 8th July 2019