Friday, 15 October 2010

The Hole 3D

'You've got a gateway to Hell under your house - and that is really cool'. It's a treat to be back in Joe Dante family horror territory with The Hole 3D. More importantly though, this is *good* Joe Dante family horror territory, boasting the confidence of his finest work such as Gremlins while amping up the scares to startling proportions. Family friendly? Make sure the kids are made of tougher stuff before attending; coulrophobics certainly need not apply.

From the earliest stages of his career, ever since the mischievous Mogwai was churned up in the food processor, Dante's films famously skirted a subversive edge between bad taste scares and genuine pathos. From Explorers through to the recent Looney Tunes: Back in Action, he's experienced varying degrees of success but there's no mistaking his dark sense of humour.

He's also got a knack for a confident set-up, economically laying out the suburban rule-book before imploding it later on. He brings these pleasing skills to bear on The Hole's early stages: brothers Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) move into a new house with their mother (Teri Polo). This being a Dante film, the girl next door, Julie (Haley Bennett) quickly gets roped into their adventures when they discover an apparently bottomless hole in their basement, temporarily alleviating their sense of boredom.

A hole, it must be said, that's initially covered by a heavily padlocked trapdoor. 'That's a lot of locks', Lucas observes. And boy do they realise the significance of so many locks when the hole unleashes a malevolent force that causes each of the three's deepest fears to manifest. Much less devoid of Dante's usual ironic humour, although still funny and with plenty of breathing space, the film then proceeds to ratchet up the terror to exquisite proportions that belies its 12A certificate (in the UK). Although Dante's direction and sense of cine-literacy is as playful as ever, it plays much more as a straightforward tale of dread, with somewhat more contemporary references thrown in (The Grudge here; The Sixth Sense there). 3D is largely negligible: Dante's direction needs no such bells and whistles to remind us of his eye for a darkened corridor, sense of pacing or a fabulously inventive finale (in this case, the inevitable descent into the hole itself).

Chief among the scares is a hideous clown doll that springs to life and comes to terrorise Lucas (we're assuming Stephen King's IT would tip him over the edge). Such old fashioned chills remind us why it's a pleasure to be in the hands of a director capable of gauging how to scare a young audience while ensuring enough verve for the adults, especially in the latter stages when the final manifestation carries disturbing emotional connotations. Often however, one wonders whether the director goes too far, especially since Javier Navaratte's nerve jangling score rarely lets up from the terror (Dante's previous composer Jerry Goldsmith would surely have shaded in more dark and light).

But then, kids films have always scared (remember the Sphinx Gate in The Neverending Story?), the chance of resolution in the end offering a soothing catharsis. In the case of The Hole, the latter seems to arrive in too brisk a fashion, a slight disappointment given the gradual build-up beforehand, but as a lean, mean scaring machine that appeals to pre-adolescents and their cynical minders alike, The Hole may just be the film to give the live action kids film its guts back. Just remember to remove that clown doll out of the room before watching...

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