Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home.
When Simon brings his twelve year-old son, Finn, to rural Vermont to help flip an old farmhouse, they encounter the malicious spirit of Lydia, a previous owner. And now with every repair they make - she's getting stronger.
Trying to escape her broken past, Sarah O'Neill is building a new life on the fringes of a backwood rural town with her young son Chris. A terrifying encounter with a mysterious neighbour shatters her fragile security, throwing Sarah into a spiralling nightmare of paranoia and mistrust, as she tries to uncover if the disturbing changes in her little boy are connected to an ominous sinkhole buried deep in the forest that borders their home.
When A24 releases a new horror film, I take notice. It's no secret that the young studio has taken the world of cinema by storm over the past few years, steadily building a library of vital, creative, and challenging films. They have effectively positioned themselves as the standard-bearers for art house in the mainstream, granting wide exposure to auteur filmmakers who would otherwise have serious difficulty finding distribution for their work in the current climate.
A24's contribution to modern horror has been particularly noteworthy. For my money, they've released all three of the decade's best horror films: Under the Skin, The Witch, and Hereditary, all three masterpieces, the latter two directorial debuts. The studio has a clear passion for intelligent, substantive horror that avoids the cheap and shallow scares routinely delivered by the major studios.
The Hole in the Ground, too, is a directorial debut. But unlike the aforementioned films, it feels like one. That's not necessarily to its detriment, as the film has that infectious creative energy of a first-timer experimenting with his/her craft. It also certainly carries some of A24's hallmarks as a small, independent, character-focused work with striking visuals, touches of surrealism, and an art-house sensibility.
The problem is the film feels underdeveloped. Although it uses the cinematic language of the art house, it delivers something far more in line with what you'd expect from the mainstream arena: a series of scare setpieces (some of which are admittedly quite effective) strung together upon a premise that serves as nothing more than a foundation on which to build those scares.
The setup is fairly promising: a mother flees an ambiguously troubled past with her young son, settling in a new town and hoping for a fresh start. Things grow sinister as she discovers an ominous sinkhole in the woods adjacent to her new home which seems somehow to have influenced her son's behavior.
It's a premise rife with symbolic potential. There are allusions to domestic violence, touches of mental illness, and perhaps a subtle suggestion as to how a battered woman's view of her son may blur with her image of his father, her abuser. But that's just it - allusions, touches, and suggestions. These themes are set up, hinted at, but never truly explored nor enriched.
Take Thomasin of The Witch and Annie of Hereditary, both full-bodied protagonists with excellent arcs, supported by films that fully flesh out the underlying themes of their respective stories. Sarah, on the other hand, feels like a blank slate for much of the film - a vessel utilized to deliver scares to the audience rather than a true character. And rather than developing the ideas and symbolic potential of the setup, the film opts instead to spend its time doling out relatively routine and surface-level scare tropes.
Despite my misgivings, the film managed to be mildly enjoyable simply on the strength of its setup, visuals, and few effectively unsettling moments. Though it doesn't reach even close to the heights of the studio's best horror offerings, it has enough merit to justify a viewing from the avid fan looking for a creepy 90-minute diversion. Just calibrate your expectations accordingly.
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