“It starts like pebbles rolling down a hill. Then you blink and it becomes a landslide,” observes one of the various, grimly ill-fated characters in newcomer writer-director Lee Cronin’s elegantly orchestrated debut. And it’s here, in these two, economically concise yet penetratingly insightful sentences that Cronin captures precisely the very particular breed of slowly escalating dread and paranoia that dominates this rather heavily hyped indie chiller.
Revolving around the familiar, doom-laden narrative of the archetypal struggling single mother besieged by deeply unsettling supernatural phenomena that serves as a richly symbolic metaphor for family dysfunction and psychological trauma, it’s no surprise that 'The Hole In The Ground' has sparked various, glowing comparisons to the game-changing likes of 'Hereditary' and 'The Babadook'. And indeed, from its dizzying, eerily surrealist upside-down camera angles and darkly brooding shots of a sweepingly desolate Irish countryside, there’s a great deal to like about this deliciously atmospheric title. But just how epic and devastating a “landslide” of ghoulish, unadulterated horror results from this deftly controlled drip-feeding of mounting suspense is an entirely more debatable matter.
With its dour and depressive depictions of mundane, day-to-day domesticity recalling all the tragic lifelessness and maddening claustrophobia of fellow indie horror 'The Babadook', Seána Kerslake delivers a convincingly organic portrayal of our troubled and likeably heroic protagonist Sarah. Anchored in the intensely foreboding backdrop of an absent father and her young son’s subsequent, simmering resentment, the pair’s shakily dysfunctional bond takes a further, unexpectedly traumatic hit when Chris (James Quinn Markey) goes missing after an impromptu nocturnal jaunt in the woods before eventually returning to her in an eerily altered and unfamiliar state.
From here, it’s through a haunting array of torturous dream sequences, paranoid fantasies and morbid motifs that we’re plunged headlong into Sarah’s intensely disorientating personal nightmare. From an open-casket funeral scene to dusky, panoramic shots of densely secluded woodland, 'The Hole' is positively drenched in eerie foreshadowing and suspense, while its hauntingly supernatural climax is rich with unearthly, del Torro-esque beauty.
Like the finest and most authentic of artful imposters, it certainly walks and talks every bit like the aforementioned cinematic greats. But with such a dissatisfyingly tame and toothless final resolution, its rather anticlimactic lack of pay-off following such sustained and intense slow-burning tension sees it fall considerably short of cinematic excellence.
'The Hole In The Ground' is out 1st March 2019