“They swing from monsters to angels and back again in the blink of an eye”
There is something undeniably creepy about the bleak stares of children, whose mothers are left running around trying to control their devilish offspring – to no avail. From Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014), the terrors of motherhood pose an infinite source of inspiration for horror productions. Lee Cronin’s first feature film The Hole in the Ground (2019) revolves around fear, delusion and the inexplicable bonds formed between a mother and her son.
Sarah (Seána Kerslake) decides to turn the page by moving to a small rural town deep in the Irish countryside with her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey). Escaping a toxic family situation, it all goes well until the boy gets suddenly lost in the woods. A minute later, she finds him standing next to an enormous hole, peering ominously into the ground below. Sarah becomes wary of her son’s behaviour soon after the strange incident, which leads her to eventually start questioning his actual identity. Could he be an impostor, or is she losing her mind?
For the good first half of the film, the director chooses a gradual build-up to provide his female lead with plenty of time to be the narrator of her own story – before any horror elements start to creep in. By focusing on just a few characters and a handful of encounters, the mother becomes the central figure of her sympathy-inducing struggles, while the wound on her head suggests there may be more to the eye than just a sinister monster inside her child’s body. Blending the delusions of Capgras syndrome (also known as “imposter syndrome”) and old Irish folktales, in which humans are replaced by fairy children, the film starts off on a good foot, captivating us with its beautiful landscapes and appropriate music scores.
However, the background characters remain completely undeveloped, and the old folktale of otherwordly creatures switching bodies with humans loses its value when we are finally presented with the said CGI being. It is certainly a low budget production. However, it would have been better to simply allow us to use our own imagination and fear the shape of this dark threat lurking inside the innocent boy.
Young Markey is quite convincing in his part, in spite of the many plot holes popping up along the road, aswell as the odd acting sequences and incoherent reactions to what is happening to the protagonists. A few cliche horror tricks, such as creaking noises, unstable neighbours and eerie music, undermine the psychological effect established in the beginning. In addition, the lack of a story arc dragged out the third part of the film into a slow end that lost its chance of being ambiguous – not to mention surprising.
All in all, The Hole in the Ground could have been far more impactful if the minor details had been taken care of. With a stronger script, the overall idea could have easily competed with Peter Medak’s Canadian supernatural horror The Changeling (1980) referring to the same idea of replaced children. Of course, this film is Cronin’s first attempt, which only promises better results in the future, as it is obvious that the Irish film writer and director has a good understanding of the fundamentals of horror.