The Hole (Joe Dante, 2009)
If you’re going to make an homage to the young-adult horror films of the eighties, who better to do it than one of the original directors? Joe Dante, whose resume in the horror world was built first on cheap exploitation flicks (Piranha) and then on blockbuster teen horror (Gremlins), returns to the world he helped build, and a welcome return it is indeed. The Hole could easily have been made in 1989 rather than 2009, and I say this with a great deal of affection. This is a fun, fun movie, though perhaps Dante cleaved a little too closely to the formula (more on this later).
Plot: A city-bred family—mom (Beyond Borders‘ Teri Polo) and her two sons, older Dane (The Vampire’s Assistant‘s Chris Massoglia) and younger Lucas (The Dark Knight‘s Nathan Gamble)—move to a little piece of suburbia. While the kids are messing around in the basement, they discover a many-padlocked trapdoor, and when they open it (as, of course, they must), they discover that there seems to be a bottomless pit in their house. With the assistance of their next-door neighbor, beautiful Julie (The Haunting of Molly Hartley‘s Haley Bennett), they track down the house’s former owner, known only as Creepy Carl (Tattoo‘s Brice Dern), and find out that the hole is a portal to a dimension that forces people to face their deepest fears. While Dane professes to not be scared of anything, both Lucas and Julie soon find themselves haunted…
Everything I love about this movie I summed up in the first paragraph—it feels like those safe, easy teen “horror” movies my entire generation grew up on. We loved Gremlins just as much as we loved Phantasm (or, for that matter, Piranha), and that was okay; the world of PG horror films in the eighties was vastly different than it is today, when a PG-13 rating on a horror film dooms it to mediocrity before it’s even released. Hell, this is the first PG-13 horror film in the last twenty years I remember actually liking.
SPOILER ALERT: the following paragraph can be construed to contain a major spoiler. If you haven’t seen the movie and are intending to, stop reading now.
The one thing about those YA-horror blockbusters that did always grate on me, though, was that very safety. You knew going in that everything was going to be okay; they were the celluloid equivalent of romance novels. The heroine was always going to wind up with the guy who was best for her by the last page of the novel, and they would live happily ever after. And, well, if you want to consider it a spoiler alert you can: Dante went right along with the formula. Didn’t deviate from it one iota. You would think that would kick the nostalgia bells into high gear, but given the movie’s lukewarm reception (as I write this, its IMDB rating is 5.8, audience rating is 48% on RT, though critical reception was much better [78%]), that doesn’t seem to be the case. It would have been great to see Dante suddenly turn on his heel and break new ground like he did in the early eighties… unfortunately, though, no dice, and in my estimation, the movie suffers for it—and I don’t seem to be alone in that. Still, I did find it an enjoyable experience. As with a few other movies I’ve seen recently, you may need to be of a certain age to get the most out of this flick, but it’s a fun ride if you grew up on Joe Dante movies in the eighties. ***
Gotcha some trailer right there.