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Hole in the Ground, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/06/19 22:38:13

"Steady changeling fare."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 21: Consume enough fantasy and horror, or get enough of a feel for various sorts of mythology, and you will start to recognize various things to the point where you maybe want a little more, even if a story is a decent example of what it is. "The Hole in the Ground" is like that: It's a perfectly fine little movie drawn from Irish folklore, and as soon as the specific bit of mythology is clear, the viewer will say "ah, it's about those", let it play out, and then maybe recall it when someone asks for movies about changelings but not come back to it that often otherwise.

It opens with Sarah O'Neill (Seána Kerslake) and her son Chris (James Quinn Markey) moving into an old house in need of some work on the outskirts of a small Irish village, the sort that comes complete with a weird old lady (Kati Outinert) who wanders out into the middle of the street saying foreboding things, and has ever since some sort of childhood trauma. Chris is sullen, not understanding why they're making this move and why his father isn't coming with them, though people who notice certain types of scars and bandages on Sarah will get it. While walking in the woods, they discover a huge sinkhole, and though Sarah says to stay away, kids do get curious in the middle of the night, sometimes having a curious change of behavior afterward.

Director and co-writer Lee Cronin tends to keep the film closely centered on Sarah and Chris, and that's by no means a bad way to go. They're a well-cast pair that can certainly carry the weight of a small film like this, with James Quinn Markey doing quite all right as both the disappointed version of Chris and the one that seems somewhat off; it's not necessarily meant to be a subtle difference, but it is one that doesn't immediately make Sarah look like a fool when she doesn't pick up on it. Seána Kerslake is impressive as well; there's the tiniest hint of her trying to make herself feel enthused about working on the house herself as the film starts, and nice alarm and self-doubt as she starts to wonder about Chris. She's seldom flashy, but she's convincing in a lot of little ways, so she and the filmmakers are able to fill a fair amount of who Sarah is in without a lot of obvious effort.

It's a nicely put-together film, too, making it to the 90-minute mark without stretching or cutting too much. The film benefits a bit by how there are many ways to make a film look good by taking a camera to Ireland and pointing it at the landscape, rustic houses, or charming villages, with Cronin and his crew using a lot of familiar tricks, from the opening which makes a road through the woods feel like a tunnel to another world to the sudden hitting of the brakes when someone appears in the middle of the road out of nowhere. The bits that are specific to the film are handled nicely, too - the hole itself looks like a frightening void that's just on the border of being obviously supernatural when first seen from the air, and it's shot to be frightening without seeming impossible, with steep but not quite perfectly vertical walls and a depth that is hard to get a reading on.

This is all well-done, but kind of light. For much of the film, the idea of the changeling just feels like a bit of folklore that Cronin and co-writer Stephen Shields know, although they seem to shy away from making a film about the particular mythology, with the history of the town only brought up when it's needed. It's certainly frightening enough as a concept on its own - the fear of not being able to protect one's child and the shame of not recognizing when something is not right strike to the heart of a parent's insecurities, the film never seems to go deep with it - it's not like The Babadook in that Sarah doesn't particularly need to confront that she wishes Chris were different, and she never seems wrapped up in herself to the point where this seems like it happens because of her negligence. There's a moment or two when the film does strike a chord by highlighting how family members failing each other can cast a shadow even decades later, but that's not about this family, even if it does drive the point home to Sarah.

"The Hole in the Ground" is still a good use of this particular bit of lore; the filmmakers know the specific potency of what they're making a movie about and don't mess it up on the way to a decent little supernatural thriller. It doesn't quite resonate the way a great horror movie would but it also never stumbles, a fair example of something that is often done poorly.

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