The Final Girl has grown up and become a worried parent. The horror genre’s recent trend, encompassing movies like The Babadook, Mama, and Hereditary, deals with a mother’s anxiety over raising children manifesting as some kind of ancient evil spirit or entity. These films have been downright terrifying at times and not all of them have ended with happy endings. A new entry into the cycle is Lee Cronin’s Sundance film The Hole in the Ground, which treads familiar ground of a possibly evil child, but does so in a fresh and satisfying way.
The debut feature from Cronin, The Hole in the Ground is a fairly intimate story of a young single mother named Sarah (Seána Kerslake) and her eight-year-old son Chris (James Quinn Markey) set against a vast rural Irish woodland that beautifully uses the misty forest backdrop. As Sarah and Chris have moved into a new home, Chris is worried about meeting new friends at school and is sad about leaving their lives in the city following some kind of falling out between Sarah and her husband. Shortly after arriving, they come across a mentally ill older woman (Kati Outinen) who shouts that Chris isn’t really Sarah’s son, something which she yelled about her own son many years earlier.
Naturally Sarah is put off by the encounter, but shortly thereafter she begins noticing Chris acting strange. It may have something to do with a massive (we’re talking craterous) sinkhole out in the forest. Or it could just be Sarah’s own anxieties about finding herself a newly single mother and living in a creepy house. Much of the runtime finds Sarah having vivid nightmares about her fears, and the lines between dream and reality blur until they inevitably collide and we get an answer that might not satisfy everyone, but works in the context of this movie.
There’s nothing inherently new or innovative in what’s happening in The Hole in the Ground, but it’s nevertheless executed effectively. Kerslake is a magnetic lead actor, incredibly real and relatable, which makes her struggle with forces beyond her that much more compelling. Cronin also smartly holds back on what’s really going on until the last possible moment and never explains too much. For movies like this, it’s much scarier to know the what without ever knowing the why or the how.
What the film excels at most is making the audience guess where the next scare will come from. In a big, empty house near a vast, dark forest, there’s plenty of options, and Cronin varies it up enough to make you fret one without seeing it coming from somewhere else. Nothing in the movie is set up without a payoff, even if that payoff isn’t quite what you’d imagine. While I was never truly scared, the mood is thoroughly unsettling throughout and there are a few good surprises along the way.
The Hole in the Ground has been acquired by A24 and DirecTV, so expect it sometime in the near future for a nice little creep-fest.
3.5 out of 5