Sunday 11 August 2019

The Hole in the Ground (Lee Cronin, 2019)

Recently released on DVD, The Hole in the Ground is a promising first feature from director Lee Cronin, and for the most part it's an admirable exercise in low-key horror, one which is only slightly let down by a disappointing final reel - but, let's be honest, that's the sort of - ahem - hole that many a film from the genre has fallen into.  It's a well-crafted work which boasts both excellent cinematography and fine acting, and there's enough here to suggest that a steady career in features awaits its director.  Cronin had made several TV ads and short films before making a splash with the 17-minute Ghost Train, which scooped a prestigious award from the Brussels-based European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation (EFFFF).  The Hole in the Ground is a Belgian co-production, and, like Ghost Train, also received funding from Finland - which presumably explains the surprising, welcome casting of Aki Kaurismäki regular Kati Outinen.

Sarah (Seána Kerslake) and her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey) have fled to a house in the countryside, presumably to escape Sarah's abusive ex.  Their new home is certainly remote, and it's surrounded by a forest in which there's a huge, strange sinkhole - the hole in the ground of the title.  While this crater makes for a rather unsettling sight, Sarah doesn't have too much time to dwell on the oddity as she sets about establishing the new family abode.  While driving close to home, Sarah nearly runs over an elderly, clearly disturbed woman (Outinen) who is standing in the middle of the road; later on, Sarah sees the woman, whose name is Noreen, and her husband Des (James Cosmo), and Noreen tells Sarah that Chris is not her son.

Soon after this unpleasant incident, Noreen is found murdered with her head buried in the earth, and Sarah attends the funeral, where Des gives a little more information about his wife's troubled existence: Noreen firmly believed that their son, James, had been taken away and replaced by a doppelgänger, and she could tell the difference when the carbon copy stood in front of a mirror.  Even allowing for the upheaval Chris has experienced over the past few months, Sarah feels her son's behaviour is atypical, and she entertains thoughts similar to those which troubled Noreen for many years.  Predictably enough, a medical examination turns up no major problems with Chris.

The film then proceeds to pull off an impressive balancing act, leaving us guessing: is there actually something wrong with Chris, or is it Sarah who's unravelling?  While there's nothing especially new in this basic concept, the treatment of it is sufficiently skilful to make The Hole in the Ground an enjoyably spooky experience, and Cronin demonstrates a good eye for folk horror as he fully taps into the creepiness of the isolated, bucolic surroundings.  It is only when we reach the film's aforementioned latter stages that the director loses his grip - and his nerve - as measured psychological horror gives way to gloopy FX.  Cronin does manage to right the ship somewhat with a satisfying coda, but it's a pity that one of the more intriguing horror films of recent times loses its way so close to its conclusion.  Still, this is a generally solid film with some nice flourishes, and it will be interesting to see how Lee Cronin builds on this most assured debut.

Darren Arnold

Image: WildCard Distribution