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Review The Hole In The Ground – “Haunting nightmare fuel”

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The Hole in the Ground is an Irish horror movie written and directed by first-timer Lee Cronin, and stars Seána Kerslake (Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope), James Quinn Markey (Vikings) and James Cosmo (Game of Thrones). It was ecstatically received at Sundance, and compared to Hereditary and The Babadook, but does it live up to the hype?

After an alluded to tragedy, Sarah O’Neill (Kerslake) and her son Chris (Markey) move deep into the Irish countryside and begin to renovate a dilapidated old house on the edge of a menacing wood containing a huge sinkhole. One night Chris creeps out to play in the woods, and when Sarah eventually finds him it is clear Chris has fallen into the hole – but is what has come back out really still her son?

Sarah slowly becomes more and more paranoid and suspects her son of being some kind of doppelganger. She seeks help from an elderly neighbour (Cosmo) who may have been through the same thing with his wife – who now wanders the woods freaking people out – and tells her “That’s not your boy.” With Sarah at her wit’s end and “Chris”’ behaviour becoming more and more troubling, will we find out if it’s all in her head? And is this the real Chris? And what on earth is in that hole?

Being a supernatural horror about a mum and a scary kid, those Hereditary and The Babadook comparisons are fair, but The Hole in the Ground is certainly its own, very different, thing. It never matches the bombastic terror of Hereditary – instead smouldering slowly and unsettlingly before some swift icy stabs to the guts and a flesh-crawling finale – and while it is not as psychological as The Babadook, Hole is scarier.

If Hole was a Hollywood horror there would be more jumps – but it wouldn’t be as scary. Hole builds and ratchets constantly, and there are moments where you know a scare is coming… but it doesn’t, and there is no throwaway line to get a laugh and break the tension either. That unrequited uneasiness is just left to sit on your chest, growing into an anxious uncertainty that puts you right into Sarah’s boots, and the palm of Cronin’s hand.

Cronin’s directing is assured and Hole feels fully-fleshed out and full of point and purpose. There is no fat on the narrative – this is lean confident filmmaking with visuals that make clever use of framing and space: intelligently contrasting the house full of shadowy places in the frame where anything could lurk with an impenetrable and achingly oppressive feeling forest. Cronin is to be kept an eye on.

As is his star. Kerslake honest and powerful performance is truly star-making and marks her as a wonderful assertive lead who is constantly propelling us forward and effortlessly drawing us into her character’s suspicious and protective headspace.

She also is aided by some wonderful supporting roles to bounce off of, with Markey showing a brilliant range for a child actor that goes from being the perfect son to a chilling “Hello, mummy” creep with seemingly little effort. James Cosmo is also excellent, again proving that no matter the size of the role, his densely bearded huggable growling gravitas provides plenty of production value.

Full of dread and scares, and digging deeper than you expect, Lee Cronin’s parental paranoia folk horror The Hole in the Ground is haunting nightmare fuel, and if you dare to descend it will freeze your blood.

The Hole in the Ground is released in the UK on the 1st of March.

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