‘The Hole in the Ground’

❉ ‘The Hole In The Ground’ is a startlingly assured first film that marks Cronin as a name to watch.

Whether it’s the Devil’s youngest lad Damien causing a scene at his birthday party and getting the animals at the zoo to kick off big style or undead toddler Gage Creed running around with a straight edge razor in Pet Sematary, creepy kids have always been a reliable mainstay in the horror genre. With his debut The Hole in the Ground, director Lee Cronin gifts the audience with a sinister film that trades in familial distrust, doppelgangers and possibly the creepiest use of the word “Mummy” in recent cinematic history.

After a number of shorts Cronin makes the leap to full length features with ease with this compact, low budget horror that successfully manages to avoid the pitfalls, traps and clichés that all too often stain the genre. Young, single mother Sarah and her quiet 8-year-old son Chris have relocated to a rural part of Ireland. The house seems nice enough but the forest outside is a bit foreboding. And the massive, shifting, churning hole that lies slap bang in the middle of it is definitely bad news. Could it somehow be the cause of changes in Chris’s behaviour? Or could there be a problem closer to home with Sarah herself?

The issue of estrangement between mother and child has been examined in the genre before, most notably and recently with The Babadook. While The Hole in the Ground may lack that film’s hard, psychological, testing edge it easily proves its own merits with a combination of unsettling imagery, creepy sound design and smart appealing performances. As Sarah, Seana Kerslake, gives a sympathetic performance of a well-rounded character who finds her nerves and mental resolve tested. James Quinn Markey gives a performance that for an 8-year-old is beyond impressive, particularly in making the most mundane activities; watching TV with an empty smile on his face or combing his own hair, seem exceedingly sinister and foreboding. Even when we can not see what he is doing, as in one scene which makes great effect of obscuring him behind his own bedroom door, his scuttling footsteps, scratching fingers and sing-song voice can set the most hardened horror viewer on edge.

With its Irish setting and cast, with the exception of Scottish National Treasure James Cosmo, the film carves out a distinct identity of its own. Vast overhead shots of the landscape sometimes resemble near otherworldly, petri like snapshots as characters travel through them. In the Q&A after the screening Cronin remarked upon the comparisons of the hole here to the Sarlaac Pit in Return of the Jedi. There is a similarity but this cavernous harbinger of doom and dread is more like a vast black hole but somehow earthier.

Cronin avoids the cheap and quiet, quiet, LOUD scares and jumps that pop up too often in the genre these days. Instead he manages to convey an impressive sense of dread, claustrophobia and with the titular hole, impressive visual scale. When the script, co-written with Stephen Shields, makes a particular decision to commit to a certain story direction some audiences may find themselves a little disappointed whilst others may delight in how far it takes itself. What is definitely successful and refreshing is the subtle and smarter approach that is rarely found in horror cinema these days.

The examination and exploitation of doubt in one’s self and in others is explored neatly here and it will be exciting to see if Cronin chooses to explore the conceit further in the future. He proves here that he can work wonders with a small budget and his ambition and skill is on display here in every scene. Smart, lean, subtle and genuinely creepy in places it certainly marks out Cronin as a director to keep an eye on. Going on general release in cinemas a week after its Glasgow Film Festival screenings this is horror cinema that demands to be seen on the big screen.

‘The Hole In The Ground’: Director: Lee Cronin. Cast includes Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Simone Kirby, Steve Wall, Eoin Macken, Sarah Hanly. Cert: 15. Running time: 90mins. Released in cinemas across the UK and Ireland on 1st March 2019 from Vertigo Releasing and Wildcard Distribution.

The 15th annual Glasgow Film Festival is running from 20 February to 3 March 2019. See https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival for full information.

❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.

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