A24’s The Hole in the Ground is a scary Irish blessing


Irish horror film The Hole in the Ground debuted in January at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was well received by critics. Intrigued by its creepy theatrical poster of a serious-looking little boy with a spider half in his mouth, I decided to check it out on St. Patrick’s Day.

The Hole in the Ground begins with single mother Sarah moving herself and her son Christopher into a house in the Irish countryside. It’s clear early on that she has left Chris’s father, and it’s implied that there may have been some physical abuse involved (she has trouble with a recent scar on her forehead). Chris is resentful that he can’t see his father, and is sometimes a bit mouthy to his mother.

Upon their arrival to the small village they are relocating to, Sarah and Chris argue in the car, and in the midst of their disagreement, Sarah nearly hits an old woman standing in the middle of the road. The woman is obviously a little off, and her husband shows up to take her back home.

There are a lot of suitably frightening elements in this movie — the old house that Sarah and Chris move into is dimly lit, and the woods surrounding the house are foreboding. Even more frightening is the unexpected landscaping Sarah discovers in those woods while searching for Chris…a massive hole, almost like a crater.

Sarah seems like a woman on the edge of a breakdown, fighting to provide a normal life for her son, who she begins to believe is literally not himself. It turns out that the old woman they encountered on moving day went a little bonkers and was hospitalized because she believed her own son, James,  had been taken and replaced by a changeling. Although gossip had it that she had hit her son with the car and killed him, her husband claims he did it accidentally.

The Hole in the Ground – Courtesy Savage Productions

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Sarah starts to think that Chris may be in that giant hole in the woods, and the child currently living with her is his evil Doppelganger, and we are not sure at first whether to believe she is losing her mind. Even when she peers under a closed door to see him eating a spider (!), we are not sure if she is really seeing this, or if it’s in her mind. At this point, she has been prescribed medication by a doctor, so maybe it’s the pills, right?

But, when the old woman is found dead with her head buried in the dirt, we start to think Sarah may be right. At her funeral, Sarah talks to the husband again, and he tells her that the woman claimed she could tell James was not really himself by looking at his reflection in the mirror.

What I really appreciated about the portrayal of Chris is that he is not a happy, cheerful boy who suddenly becomes quiet and morose, or even outright evil. He is a little odd from the beginning, he is shy and reluctant to make friends, and he snaps at Sarah when he is upset. So, when he changes, the changes are subtle at first, and it’s easy to think that Sarah is imagining things.

The suspense in this movie builds up slowly, so be prepared for that; this is not an action-packed horror flick, it’s more of a slow burn. The incidents that lead Sarah to believe her son is a Doppelganger are handled very well. While watching his class sing during a talent show, she hallucinates that the other students and audience members disappear, and Chris is standing alone on the stage, lit by a stoplight. He continues singing, looking directly at her, and his voice slows down and begins to drag.

The Hole in the Ground – Courtesy Savage Productions

Seana Kerslake gives a very believable, vulnerable performance as Sarah. James Quinn Markey was a great choice for the quiet, serious Chris, he reminded me of a young Haley Joel Osment. They perfectly portrayed a mother and son who loved one another, but were trying to recover from an emotionally traumatic time.

My only gripe is that the final ten minutes seemed very rushed when compared to the slow, steady suspense we have gone through to get there. I would have liked the ending to have been a little more detailed, and not quite so abrupt.

A word of caution: Due to the fact that parts of this movie are literally quite dark, I don’t recommend watching it on your phone, as I tried to do. I couldn’t see what was going on clearly enough, particularly the scene set inside the hole, and had to switch out to my tv, so do yourself a favor and watch it on a big screen!

Overall, I found The Hole in the Ground to be an enjoyably spooky 90 minutes. You can watch it On Demand or on Amazon Prime Video, or you can wait until it’s released on DVD April 30.

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Have you seen The Hole in the Ground, and, if so, what did you think? Leave your own “review” in the comments section.