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Rashid Irani's Review: The Hole

For those who admire the family friendly fantasies (Gremlins, Small Soldiers) that he made during the 1980s and '90s, Joe Dante's return to cinema after a long break is cause for celebration. Rashid Irani writes.

movie reviews Updated: Jan 31, 2012 15:35 IST
Rashid Irani

When fear cheers

The Hole
Joe Dante
Cast: Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett
Rating: ***1/2

For those who admire the family friendly fantasies (Gremlins, Small Soldiers) that he made during the 1980s and '90s, Joe Dante's return to cinema after a long break is cause for celebration.

The director's deep regard for horror movies and the anarchic energy of old cartoons is still evident.

He's back in form with this scary-fun parable about children having to confront their fears head on. Along with her two young sons, a single mother (Teri Polo) moves from New York to a small town.

The teenage older sibling (Massoglia) is attracted to a beautiful blonde neighbour (Bennett). Together with his younger brother (Nathan The HoleGamble), they discover a dark, bottomless pit in the basement of their suburban home.

Prying open the locks, the trio dare to venture into the abyss.

Unlike recent frightmares which are extremely manipulative, The Hole delivers scares with inventive chutzpah.

Bloodletting and gore are conspicuous by their absence.

The unhurriedly paced narrative effectively conveys the sense of dread while unleashing superbly- staged set pieces.

Whether it's a demonic jester doll or a ghostly young girl, Dante creates a genuinely spooky atmosphere by delving into the children's mindscape and their archetypal fears.

Indeed, their worst nightmares seem to constantly spring to life.

The expressionistic production design during the climactic confrontation is a tad overblown. Familiar objects and settings such as a swimming pool and a belt buckle undergo sinister transformations.

There are off-hand gags like the heroine reading Dante's Inferno in her spare time or the opening shot of the camera zooming out from the exhaust pipe of a station wagon.

The three young leads exude easygoing charm. Yesteryear's Bruce Dern fetches up as the old coot who warns the children of the impending darkness that will engulf them.

All seen and shuddered, The Hole is well worth exploring.

Crying werewolf again
Here's a disappointing gothic-horror update of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Director Hardwicke, who initiated the smash Twilight franchise, narrates another teen romance revolving around a maiden and two hunky suitors.

The story is uninvolving, the creature effects are of the dime-store variety and there's hardly any sense of foreboding. In a small medieval village (chintzily recreated in a studio) residents live in fear of a rampaging werewolf. A pretty teenager (Seyfried) dons the crimson cowl and is determined to unmask the 'beast' that killed her older sister.

A hunter-priest (Gary Oldman, channeling his stock-in-trade creepiness) also shows up to ensnare the nasty human in werewolf's garb. Little Red is torn between two lovers - a rugged woodcutter (Fernandez) and a wealthy blacksmith (Max Irons). It's hard to believe that she cares for either of them. The script squanders every opportunity to probe the love-triangle dynamic. In what must surely be the nadir of their careers, Virginia Madsen and Julie Christie portray the girl's mother and grandmother respectively.

In effect, Red Riding Hood is strictly for the teeny-bopper brigade.

Silly sister act
Another release, another embarrassing fiasco sourced from a literary classic. Debutant director Angel Garcia offers a Latina spin on Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. He shouldn't have bothered. While transposing the story from 18th century Britain to present-day America, the bare bones of the plot have been retained. We strive to connect with the travails of two Beverly Hills-bred sisters (Belle-Vega) who are reduced to penury following the death of their single-parent dad. Forced to relocate with their aunt (Adriana Barraza, in full-shrieking mode) the girls have no option but to start life all over again on the mean calles of East Los Angeles.

Needless to say, complications with three handsome men ensue. The film suffers from a schematic script, inconsistent performances and characters that come across as ethnic stereotypes. There is a misguided attempt to infuse some local Mexican culture into the proceedings. But that's about it. Ms. Austen would certainly not have approved.