Monday, October 29, 2012

The Hole (C-)

(Sorry for the month long hiatus; after the incident involving my review of the independent drama Brilliant Mistakes, I felt that I needed to take a small break from writing. Hopefully I'll be back to getting out four or more reviews per month starting in November.)

Some movies are based off novels, others inspired by real life events, but rarely is there a feature whose premise stems from a mere quotation. Seemingly based on FDR's iconic quote about fear,
The Hole is an Australian horror feature whose villain is the very essence of fear itself: A bottomless hole leading to an alternate dimension where your nightmares transform into physical form. It's an odd, but engaging premise; one which allows for endless creativity when conjuring up potential creatures and demons to terrify the audience. Without the confinements of a constant evildoer, the director and art department have the opportunity to create as many creepy monstrosities as they desire, while also showing the audience terrors they may've previously imagined, but have never witnessed onscreen. Though the relatively low-budget put some limitations on complexity (12M), it isn't difficult to imagine someone like Guillermo del Toro, or more recently Panos Cosmatos, directing a visually fascinating version of the premise; replete with nightmarish designs unlike anything else we've seen before. Unfortunately, while director Joe Dante has already proven his knack for monsters with his 1984 classic Gremlins, his latest is far too generic and melodramatic to live up to its full potential.

While the promise terrifying visuals may be main reason to seek out the film, the acting and script doesn't help the cause for further recommendation. Narratively, it's both simultaneously generic and needlessly convoluted. After finding a bottomless hole inside the basement of their new suburban home, two brothers decide to unravel the mystery of its existence with the help of their cute next door neighbor. At the same time, vivid hallucinations of a dead child and other scary things begin to plague the brothers and their new ally. Could these walking nightmares have something to do with the hole? There's a cliché ridden simplicity of an average family going up against a supernatural force with a new neighbor, but it's contrasted with the complicated and never fully explained purpose of the bottomless hole. Some exposition about it comes from a local lunatic, but no questions are ever truly answered. From implications garnered from bits of dialogue, I believe it leads to an alternate dimension where fears are brought to life, but the film's website says it's a portal into Hell. Whatever works.

The acting is overall average, with Nathan Gamble coming off the best as the little brother. Though his purpose is mostly just to get scared, instigate awkward social interactions, and occasionally do something adorable, he is the only actor to transcend the trappings of his two-dimensional character. Also good is Teri Polo in a supporting role as the oblivious mother, who despite the increasing ridiculousness that she doesn't know of the hole's existence, manages to sell her role as the caring mother. Then there's Chris Massoglia as the angst ridden teenaged protagonist. Even though some blame needs to be cast on the mediocre script, there has not been a protagonist in a very long time that has aggravated me as much as his portrayal of Dane. This is a character who displays no emotion; a robot whose programming has prevented it from ever comprehending the idea of feeling. Every line is delivered in the same monotone voice, like the narrator of a hopelessly boring documentary. I strongly do not want to come off as cruel when regarding his performance, but it's truly that bad. Oscar nominee Bruce Dern shows up as a lunatic named "Crazy Carl," which just about describes his enjoyably bizarre performance as a formerly normal man driven to insanity by the mystery of the hole.

Then there's the visuals. For a feature whose premise allows everyone involved to go off the deep end to as great a length as the human imagination will allow, the visuals featured were a surprising disappointment. Our lineup of creatures and demons is as follows, in order from least to most scary:

5. An ordinary cop with the back half of his skull missing
4. An unseen shadow monster
3. The dead girl from
The Ring (whoever was in charge of casting got a dead ringer)
2. A demonically possessed clown doll
1. A gigantic belt welding psychopath without a face

Other than the belt welding psychopath, none of the hole's inhabitants feel the least bit scary, and most off the terror regarding the psychopath was mostly as result of the monster's significance in the family's backstory before moving to the suburb. Everything else comes off either as lazy (The Shadow Monster and the dead girl) or half-baked (The cop and the demonic clown doll). Even with a smaller budget, couldn't Dante and the art department come up with visualized nightmares more creative than this?

Despite a promising premise,
The Hole ends up being little more than a non-scary horror movie that's both cliché ridden and needlessly convoluted at the same time. It also fails to act upon using the seemingly guaranteed disquieting creatures promised by its premise, and the acting overall doesn't venture too outside the ordinary. For those wishing for a bare-minimum scare right before Halloween this might do the trick, but anyone else might want to rent another horror flick instead.

Grade: C-

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