THE HOLE IN THE GROUND **** Ireland / Belgium / Finland 2019 Dir: Lee Cronin. 90 mins
Co-writer / director Lee Cronin’s modest, absorbing film joins a cycle of recent evil kid movies (PET SEMATARY, BRIGHTBURN, THE PRODIGY) and also a mini wave of doppelganger / changeling pictures (LOOK AWAY, CAM, US). The audience is put on edge from the get-go: the juvenile protagonist / antagonist Chris (James Quinn Markey) is introduced via a distorted shot of his face at a carnival’s hall of mirrors. His journey with single mum Sarah (Seana Kerslake) to their remote rural Irish home literally spins us upside down as the titles appear. Sarah’s existing anxiety is heightened by their new location – situated alarmingly close to a massive sink hole. When Chris goes missing, her worst fears are realised – but his reappearance signals something even more disturbing. His behaviour is different and increasingly spooky – seemingly confirmed when the much whispered-about local eccentric freaks out in his presence, insisting “He’s not your son”.
Though a little over-extended, Cronin’s film offers a genuinely creepy slant on a familiar theme. Overt jump scares are mostly avoided in favour of drip-feed dread, while old favourites like creaking doors and noises in the night are balanced by tiny moments of intimate horror involving something as deceptively banal as hair combing. Early incidental details like Chris’ fear of spiders and his attachment to his favourite action man doll pay off in a more disturbing context later in the story. Cronin avoids showing too much and ends on an appropriately ambiguous note of unease – reinforced by Lisa Hannigan’s eerie take on the traditional “Weile Waile” for the end credits. Quinn Markey underplays effectively as the subtly “wrong” Chris, while Kerslake captures a credible sense of alienation from both her son and everyday life in the wake of a broken relationship with the boy’s father. Moreover, the film distils the essence of children and their capacity for cruelty in a single line: “They swing from monsters to angels and back again in the blink of an eye…”
Review by Steven West