There has been a new wave of horror films recently, where the horror is more allegorical than literal. Films like The Babadook or It Follows, where any lapses in logic are forgivable because of the film’s subtext, be they themes of depression, guilt or sexual paranoia. Lee Cronin’s directorial debut The Hole In The Ground is a welcome addition to this sub-genre and while it doesn’t entirely succeed, it remains an unnerving and visually inventive horror film.
Sarah (Seána Kerslake) moves to a rural town for a new start with her son Chris (James Quinn Markey), after an argument about his absent father, Chris runs into the woods and Sarah finds him standing on the edge of a gigantic sinkhole. When an eccentric local raves that Chris “isn’t her son”, Sarah’s paranoia starts to grow and soon she notices disturbing changes in his behaviour and begins to think he’s been replaced with an impostor.
While the changeling story isn’t particularly original, Cronin’s direction feels fresh and inventive. There are several directorial flourishes and offbeat camera angles that lend the film a unique personality, and it marries the subtext with the horror. There are allusions to Sarah’s abusive ex-partner, but the film either fails to capitalise on these or is too subtle and it feels like some interesting ideas have been abandoned, which is a shame, because what it does it does well.
Both Kerslake and Markey give touching performances and are entirely believable as mother and son, it’s vital with a film like this that the audience invests in the central relationship, and it’s impressive that Cronin manages to do so in only a few scenes. Markey is convincing as a sweet little boy, but struggles to make Chris as creepy as he could be. He looks the part, and his deep breathing and big brown eyes are used to unnerving effect; but when delivering dialogue he still just sounds like a sweet little boy. However Kerslake gives an incredible performance and is always sympathetic, thus papering over some of the cracks in the plot. These include how quickly Sarah assumes that her son has been replaced, but it takes a while for her to show any concern for her “real” son’s well-being, which is odds with the loving relationship that we’ve previously seen.
While the first half brilliantly sets up the story, from there the pace lags and characters act the way the genre demands, rather than how a real person would behave. The ‘changelings’ themselves are very creepy, but under-utilised and end up almost as an afterthought, alongside a lack of mythology. As it is, the significance of the recurring use of mirrors passed me by and it felt a bit rushed and messy. I also found The Hole in the Ground could have been more intense despite a few legitimate scares, and some appropriately unpleasant dream sequences. It’s refreshing for a horror film to nearly completely eschew the use of jump scares and gore, and as a result the film is more atmospheric than truly frightening, so when there is violence, it makes it even more shocking.
Described as “This year’s Hereditary”, The Hole In The Ground is actually a much more subtle, low key film. It proves that a film doesn’t need to show someone cutting their own head off to be a disturbing horror. This is more a mix of The Babadook and Changeling and a worthy addition to the new resurgence of British horror. It’s an atmospheric, subtle film with wonderful performances and beautiful, inventive cinematography.