★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
The new wave of horror cinema is officially upon us all. Gone are the jokey and ham-fisted one liners. Gone are the over-the-top gory pokes in the eye. Gone are the sexually promiscuous teens and their gaggle of poor decisions. Yes, gone are the schlocky VHS-having ways of the 1980s. All these tropes and trends have been dutifully dispatched to the cultural trash bin of yesteryear. As we’re closing in on 2020, we’re now presented with lovingly told stories of deceit and family disfunction. We’re given beautifully shot and well executed cinematography. And horror is now delivered by actors who can…wait for it…ACT.
Enter 2019’s Hole in the Ground. A film that’s firmly parked in the new wave of horror. Family dynamism, complex characters, dark and chilling frights, and the highest of high art forms. Hole in the Ground follows a young woman Sarah O’Neill (played by Seana Kerslake) and her son Chris (James Quinn Markey) who relocate to the confines of rural Ireland. Sarah is in the throes of adult life crisis and has decided to extricate herself from Chris’ Dad. Seeking the quiet solace of the countryside Sarah decides to take break from life and focus on herself and Chris.
Not long after their arrival Sarah and Chris encounter an old woman standing in the middle of a nearby country road. Sarah swerves out of the way nearly hitting the old woman. As she approaches the old woman to check on her status, the old woman painfully, but sternly utters “…HE. IS. NOT. YOUR. SON.” Sarah immediate returns to her vehicle and sets about her newfound pastoral ways in the country.
As Chris and Sarah to adjust to life in the country Sarah begins to see small, oh so small, changes in Chris. At first they’re short disappearances to the woods adjacent to their house. Then the disappearances happen late at night. As Chris continues to disappear Sarah begins to have stark and horrifying dreams about a hole in the ground in the woods. Sarah also secretly witnesses Chris eating bugs, all the while claiming a terrifying aversion to the same bugs. As Chris begins his “metamorphosis” the old woman the he his mum encountered on the road is found dead. But not just dead, dead with her body lying face down on the ground with only her head buried in the ground.
Sarah’s strange and terrible encounters with her/not son hit a fever pitch and force Sarah to come to the realization that Chris may not be her son. Preying not on teens, slashers, or VHS tropes, Hole in the Ground goes straight for the gut. Parenting guilt, anxiety, and fear. Sarah is deeply committed to making Chris’ new life normal, but also torn with the idea that she’s not actually co-habitating with her son, but some far-out doppelgänger. Eventually Sarah follows the strangeness to its source — the hole in the ground.
While Sarah does confront the hole in the ground and its contents, sadly, that’s where the Hole in the Ground loses its way. The hole and its collection of otherworldly doppelgängers are never fully articulated. All that we’re left with is a perplexing puzzle of space aliens, killer plants. demon creatures, or some other paranormal aberrations. Needless to say, even a remote glimpse at the slightest piece of exposition really would have put this film over the top. Instead, we’re left with a well done slice of melancholy horror that’s a bit of a head-scratcher. The new wave of horror doesn’t need to rehash Microwave Massacre, My Blood Valentine, Chopping Mall, or Sorority House Massacre, but on occasion it does need to put down it’s cold and brooding exterior and realize that horror films should have a little bit of fun.
Hole in the Ground is Rated R and available for streaming on Amazon.