There is a new installment in horror’s intensely popular ‘creepy kid’ sub-genre. It’s “The Hole in the Ground” from Irish writer-director Lee Cronin. His film premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to some nice reactions but it was moody and genuinely chilling trailer that caught my attention.
Seána Kerslake plays Sarah who has moved with her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey) to a remote countryside fixer-upper. We are given the impression she has left an abusive relationship and is looking for a new start for both her and her son. Sarah has found a pocket of friends in the nearby town but it hasn’t been as easy for Chris who struggles to make friends at his new elementary school.
Late one night Chris wanders out of the house and Sarah tracks him into a dense and eerie patch of woods. There she discovers a mammoth (and obviously metaphorical) sinkhole (think Sarlacc pit but about 20x bigger). She fears the worst but then Chris suddenly appears behind her. She takes her son and hurries him back home.
But then things get a little weird. Sarah begins noticing inconsistencies with Chris. As his behavior becomes more peculiar and out of the norm she can’t help but recall an earlier encounter where a demented elderly neighbor (Kati Outinen) who hissed “He’s not your son.” Was the crazy old woman warning her? Is the sinkhole somehow responsible? Is it Sarah who is losing her mind?
“The Hole in the Ground” digs deep into the anxieties of parenthood much in the same vein as 2014’s “The Babadook”. In many ways that Jennifer Kent film trained me to be suspicious when watching horror movies featuring a distraught mother with a spooky child. Cronin wants his audience to wrestle with the uncertainty of what we are seeing which is pretty effective for most of the 90 minute running time. It’s only in the last 15 minutes that things are made clear, perhaps even too clear.
One thing is for sure, Cronin has a knack for creating mood and atmosphere. It’s often done through some very clever visual choices (the opening scene of Sarah driving through the countryside is a great example). He is also smart in how he utilizes Stephen McKeon’s haunting score. It’s tense, a bit unsettling, and never overused. It all makes for a satisfying bit of psychological horror that loses a little air with its ending but never loses its ability to manage and maintain a really effective tone.
VERDICT – 4 STARS