Given that 2010 cinema has spent much of its time revisiting prime cuts of ’80s ephemera, from literal remakes (Clash Of The Titans, The Karate Kid) and TV riffs (The A-Team, MacGruber) to spins on favourite genres like time-travel comedy (Hot Tub Time Machine) and meathead action (The Expendables), it was perhaps only a matter of time before we got to The Suburban Kids Go On An Adventure movie. Enter The Hole, the kind of family-friendly horror flick that 25 years ago may well have worn an Amblin logo.
Yet The Hole is directed by ’80s enfant terrible Joe Dante, who with Gremlins (famously ‘the anti E. T.’) and Explorers syringed Spielbergian-style fantasies with equal dollops of darkness, anarchy and subversive comedy. His first feature since 2003’s Looney Toons Back In Action, it’s perfect Dante: a strong set-up (“You’ve got a gateway to hell under your house,” says local babe Julie, “and that is really cool”), the fantastical invading the familiar, and the latitude to do all kinds of visually absurd, inventive and creepy set-pieces.
Dante departs from the ’80s family flick in two respects. Firstly, as with Explorers, where the aliens turn out to be TV-obsessed idiots, what is inside the hole is not obvious. Secondly, the story has some dark corners that are unusual in the genre. Yet where The Hole really scores — and this is rare in modern horror — is in its lead characters. Dante spends at least the first third of the film just hanging out with his kids, creating believable, shifting relationships between the two siblings (Chris Massoglia, a sparky Nathan Gamble) and the sassy blonde-next-door (Hayley Bennett). Bruce Dern is the most memorable adult as the first inhabitant of the house, warning kids the hole has been there “since the world’s first scream” with relish.
For kids hopped up on Red Bull and Saw XIV, The Hole might feel on the tame side, but it has more imagination, style and genuine dread than a hatful of My Bloody Valentines. This skill extends to the 3D trickery, which includes the old-school ’50s approach — a baseball whooshes towards camera — with a more sophisticated take, finding spookiness in exaggerating foreground objects or creating an extreme depth of field in a spooky theme park. It’s a subtle approach that befits a smart, involving, thoroughly entertaining flick.