An Irish countryside hides a mysterious, creepy-looking pit that subsides in the middle of a forest, but director-writer Lee Cronin believes it’s less interesting than an overused cliche of a weird kid that is probably possessed.
In “The Hole In The Ground”, a single mother Sarah (Seana Kerslake) lives with her only son, Chris (James Quinn Markey). One day when wandering around a forest nearby, they find a giant hole. That peculiar discovery is soon linked to the worrying behavior of Chris.
“The Hole In The Ground” was purchased for distribution by A24, a company whose choices are usually bonkers fun (this year their picks included Cannes’ revelation “Climax” and highly divisive “High Life” starring Robert Pattinson). On paper, Lee Cronin’s psychological thriller with a seemingly eerie, sci-fi twist exhibited promising value.
Seana Kerslake and James Quinn Markey begin on a high note, along with the cinematographer Tom Comerford. The son and mother dynamic starts off with believable chemistry, while the scenic shots presenting the Irish countryside let you immerse in its sleepy-creepy vibe. Cronin’s direction seems steady too, giving the first act of “The Hole In The Ground” a hypnotizing atmosphere.
A similar vibe could be felt in an all-time classic “Rosemary’s Baby” (an influence on many contemporary horrors), that kind of slowburn story where the true dread breaks forth only after you, the viewer, settle in.
This mechanism works only if the characters are original or charismatic enough. But Kerslake’s Sarah is one-dimensional, giving away most of her emotions before the film begins to screw the bolt tighter. She’s simply boring, and Kerslake’s limited skills don’t help to change these tides. Markey, on the other hand, is just too similar to every other disturbing child to make a difference.
Cronin relies too heavily on the vaguely sketched psychology as well, counting on the dynamics between a struggling mother and her son “getting all weird and dangerous” to do all the dirty work. The director tends to show very little, playing with details that aren’t as powerful as he hopes them to be. I didn’t know I’d ever write that, but if any film ever lacked jump scares, it must be “The Hole In The Ground”.
Then, there’s also the unidentified, titular hole. It pops out of nowhere and makes for one hell of a concept, but Cronin approaches it with trepidation. It paralyzes him to the extent he chooses to leave it be. Until the end, this hole – left unbothered by anyone in the vicinity – just stays there and you’re asking yourself why isn’t it the main source of fright (given the title of the film too…).
Despite its cut-and-dried story, “The Hole In The Ground” enumerates its own holes in terms of plot and logic. Early in the film, Sarah reveals her deep forehead scar, covered by a fringe. This disturbing wound rips open and bleeds at some point, but Lee Cronin literally forgets to explain where it derives from. As a viewer, you’re just supposed to take it for granted that people wander around with a wound that doesn’t scar up for months and it’s clearly a no biggie. Eventually, “The Hole In The Ground” runs out of steam, using its last breath to conclude the story with a shoddy ending that patches the titular pit with the rest of the story.
Early reviews praised this Irish indie darling for its impeccably executed storyline, which knits sci-fi with a down-to-earth, human drama together. Pin it on my high expectations, but Lee Cronin’s film isn’t that. As far as I’m concerned, “The Hole In The Ground” began as a potentially marvelous idea, but it’s the wobbly script and the “hole issue” uncertainty that eventually buried it.
The Hole In The Ground (2019)
Dir. Lee Cronin
Hate Grade: 6/10