Has it really be six years since a theatrical feature film has been directed by Joe Dante? One of the masters of blending horror and comedy, or making edgy childrens films that tend to appeal to lovers of horror and fantasy, he has been making TV episodes (Masters of Horror), contributing to the odd anthology (Trapped Ashes) and being an all around expert 'talking head' on various film geek documentaries. So, with his latest movie, The Hole, it is nice to have him back in the directors chair putting his distinctive stamp on the recent wave of 3D features. On a personal note, Dante is already ahead of game in that this is the first film I have watched since the now way out of hand trend started that did not give me a migraine headache. The extra dimension, despite being technically impressive, does quite little for the film (beyond the usual gimmickry of 'show off' moments,' particularly in POV shots from inside the titular orifice as things are dropped down or light shone inward. While the story is little beyond the average R.L. Stein romp, fans of the director may delight in the individual set-pieces (Much like Sam Raimi's recent Drag Me To Hell) which have a fun little bit of sadism lurking below the conventional exterior.
Meaning that The Hole is very much a Joe Dante movie. Visual gags seen in his previous work are referenced here and Dick Miller makes his usual cameo. With its setting confined mainly to a single home in a small town, I am inclined to consider it a loosey-goosey sequel (the highly underrated) The 'Burbs; there is even Bruce Dern in there as a crusty hermit-like obsessive providing some exposition and 'boo-atmosphere' to the picture. Yet the big giveaway is that this film is a young riff on The Sentinel (the 1970s exploiter explicitly referenced by Corey Feldman back in the The 'Burbs), sans Beverly D'Angelo showing off her naughty bits.
We get a
harried but caring single mom and her two boys (Dane and Lucas) which move into the
sleepy upstate town of Bensonville, miles away from the New York
Borroughs the boys grew up in. While mom is trying to make ends meet
and running all the errands that single moms have to do, the boys
make friends with the girl next door over a strange discovery in the cluttered basement. Young Julie is a pretty and
feisty gal who reads Dante and wears shirts with the phrase "I'm
not a Fairytale Princess" emblazoned across the bosom embodying the can-do spirit of the youngsters who kinda-sorta decide to handle the supernatural on their own. The plot is a simple enough
exploration of the hole beneath the octet of locks that keep the door securely closed. When (naturally) opened, there is a black as pitch chasm that seemingly has no
bottom. The kids quickly learn that if you stare into the void long
enough, the void will indeed stare back at you. It will even bring
your own fears right up out of the depths and start terrorizing during
the daylight hours. Jittery stop-motion little girls, demonic
clowns, decrepit theme-parks and mouldy old (glove?)
factories add an old-school feel to a crisply modern (yes, the 3D
digital Dolby projection) film. Any sense of geography or wider
world is condensed in shorthand to 'one of those crazy summers.'
Dante is not re-inventing the wheel here, but rather exploring a new
and gimmicky set of tech tools with familiar genre tropes. It should
be a fun time for the younger set at the movies but is unlikely to
leave too many sleepless nights as the picture seems to lack the ambition or full blown glee exhibited in the directors work in the eighties and early nineties.