Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Hole: The Return of the Family Film

I am a child of the 80s: a glorious, forgotten age when hair was big, shoulder-pads were bigger and PG-rated family films were full of swearing, innuendo, violence and horror.

Perhaps that's over-stating it a bit, but look back at some of the classic PG movies of the period and marvel at the content that would now have parents dragging their kids from the cinema screaming "MILD PERIL! IMAGES OF SMOKING! SEX REFERENCES! OH MY!".

"Ghostbusters" features plenty of ghastly ghouls, a fair amount of swears ("This man has no dick" etc), Sigourney Weaver writhing on a bed saying she wants Bill Murray inside her, and Dan Aykroyd getting blown by a ghost. PG rating.

"The Goonies" features more swears, some of them spelled out ("Holy S-H-I-T!"), a statue with a severed penis, a fat kid trapped in a fridge with a recently head-ventilated corpse, loads of skellingtons, and scenes of children in intense prolonged peril featuring danger of crushing, death by spikey pit and threat of hand-in-blender. PG rating.

Hell, even "E.T." contains the immortal moment when Elliot calls his brother "Penis-Breath"!

Compare this with PG family films in recent years, and you'll see, first of all, that there is a dearth of PG movies in general, with kids' films skewed towards the U certificate and family fare edging into the 12A bracket via fantasy violence and mild language, and that the vast majority of family films these days are CG comedies about talking animals getting into wacky scrapes and earning their PG through occasional crude humour or slapstick violence.

And so, it falls to Joe Dante to attempt to redress the balance. Dante, himself a stalwart exponent of true family films in his early career (although "Gremlins" pushed it a little too far, earning a 15 cert in the UK), claims his new film "The Hole" to be a return to the spirit of the lost time when "family film" didn't necessarily mean "film you can stick the kids in front of to get peace and quiet for an hour and a half" and, to be honest, if you tried that with "The Hole", you'd probably be putting a "Shrek" film on within quarter of an hour to try and wash away the horrific images your young uns had just been subjected to. These images have, of course, garnered the film a 12A cert on these shores, but its heart is certainly that of one of the vintage PG family adventures Dante is harking back to.

"The Hole" previewed last week and, almost straight away, customers where pulling their children out of the screen and asking to be let in to "The Other Guys" for some light relief for their terrified offspring, unable to adjust after being raised on a cinematic diet of Ben Stiller-voiced cartoon buffoonery.

"The Hole" is shit-scary.

The movie regales us with the tale of two brothers moving into a sleepy neighbourhood with their single mother. They find themselves bored and restless in their quiet new home, strike up a tentative friendship with the jailbait girl next door, and find a massive, heavily padlocked trapdoor in their basement.

Before you can say "Don't you open that Trap Door", they've opened the trapdoor. Then weird shit starts going off.

This is a horror film for kids. Apparently designed to remind us that children can deal with other emotions than just laughing when a CG animal falls over, "The Hole" goes out of its way to be genuinely creepy and rarely pulls a punch for the benefit of the fragile little minds it is aimed squarely at. There's a clown puppet which is probably the scariest thing I've seen on film in at least the past couple of years, and there's a scene involving a darkened public toilet that'll make you hold it in 'til you get home for days after the film.

The first couple of acts are masterfully constructed exercises in atmosphere and suspense, but the film loses its way a little as the story begins to reveal itself in the final act. The voyage into the unknown of the mysterious hole becomes little more than a journey into the wonky dream-house from the end of "Drop Dead Fred", bolstered with unnecessary 3D CGI.

The 3D generally works fine, with only a few "IT'S COMING RIGHT FOR US!" moments or gimmickery, and most of the effects are subtle and... ahem... effective until the over-cooked climax.

I think this film could be an important formative experience for young kids, it's scary, but carries the ultimate message that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, it features kids swearing (me and my associate nearly cheered the first time one of the brothers called the other a dickhead) as we all know they do, and there's attractive teen leads to develop confusing feelings for! It'll either kill your kids or make them stronger. Or stranger.

So, if you're a nostalgic child of the 80s longing for some retro-styled family adventure with an edge, you could do much worse than this, and if your kids were pushed to the brink of insanity by the climax of "Toy Story 3", this will boot them bawling into the abyss!

In a good way, of course.


  1. I know it's PG-13, but I couldn't help but think of The Monster Squad when reading this post.

    "The wolfman's got nards!"

  2. Well in England PG-13 (now our 12, if I'm not wrong) didn't exist when The Monster Squad came out. I remember renting it as a child of the 80s, so I wouldn't guess it was a 15. But then I also remember renting Robocop, so that's null and void.

  3. Why have I never heard of this before?? But it doesn't even come out in the US until June so that may explain my lack-of-knowledge on the subject. Sadly, though, this means I have to wait for 8-ish months to see what the fuss is about. Any movie were siblings call eachother dickheads is a movie for me. Good post, like usual.

  4. I haven't seen the movie yet, but the trailer gave it a sort of H.P Lovecraft for children quality.

  5. Great post & review... I'll be looking for it here in the US - can't wait! Thanks.

  6. Grump: It does have the "Monster Squad" feel to it.

    Maf: You never make any sense.

    Carolyn: Cheers. I didn't know it wasn't out in America for that long! That doesn't happen very often.

    Iron: I suppose it is a bit Lovecraft with the portal to another world and stuff, but there aren't any tentacle monsters in it. More's the pity.

    Sideways: Thanks!

    Thanks for all comments!

  7. I agree that there are far too few films aimed at scaring the crap out of children :P Watcher in the Woods got me when I was a kid.. and still does. Can't wait to see this one now. Spectacular review.