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Irish horror thriller The Hole in the Ground manages to feel fresh and original while going through a checklist of tried-and-tested horror tropes. Don’t move to a secluded rural house. Don’t go into the dark forest. Definitely don’t do either of those things if you’re a single mom with a young child. Director and co-writer Lee Cronin uses these classic ideas to great effect, weaving a disturbing tale around a mother’s love for her son.
The titular hole is not a metaphor. When young mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake) moves to a new home with her son Chris (James Quinn), she comes across something terrifying and unexplained in a nearby forest. Chasing Chris through the trees, she comes to an abrupt halt at the edge of a vertigo-inducing sinkhole—a massive, sucking crater that feels like a cross between the Sarlacc Pit and the self-destructive magnetism of the rock formations in The Enigma of the Amigara Fault.
Sarah flees, but this is just the start of her worries. Following ominous sounds around the house, she begins to wonder if something is wrong with Chris. Instead of the awkward, moody kid she knows and loves, he’s suddenly quiet and obedient. Even his taste in food has changed. Like most good changeling stories, there’s a period of uncertainty: Is Chris an imposter, or is Sarah suffering from delusions that might cause her to harm her own child?
Obviously, I won’t spoil the resolution, but rest assured that the journey and the payoff are both terrifying. Like last year’s Hereditary, The Hole in the Ground combines gradually rising dread and traditional jump-scares with a sympathetic family drama. Kerslake shines in the lead role, a shy young woman who sinks into a morass of isolation and paranoia.
This is a promising first feature from Cronin, telling a simple horror story with original flair. At a post-screening Q&A, he explained that the film’s booming soundscape is meant to reflect the exaggerated sensitivity of a panic attack, and boy does it work. The Hole in the Ground is a neat 90 minutes of escalating tension, with an eye for finding terror in everyday moments. You know it’s going to be good from the first scene: An overhead drone shot that transforms a simple car journey into a vertiginous slide into the abyss.
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Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor