Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

The Hole (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on November 19, 2004

Directed by Nick Hamm/Screenplay by Ben Court & Caroline Ip/based on the novel After the Hole by Guy Burt/starring Thora Birch, Desmond Harrington, Keira Knightley, Embeth Davidtz/Dimension Home Video

Four British prep-school students decide to spend the weekend locked in an underground bomb shelter. A word of advice: don’t do that.

This is one of several dozen films that have been sitting on the shelves at Miramax/Dimension for what seems like eternity. A British production made in 2001, the film was originally going to be released theatrically in the US, until Dimension decided otherwise. They finally blew the dust off of it and released it on DVD Oct. 19.

I don’t know about you, but whenever a movie gets pushed off the release schedule for that long, it only makes me want to see it more. I can’t help but become curious about any film that’s treated so shabbily by its distributors – is it really that horrible, or did they just not know what to do with it? At a certain point my curiosity reaches a point that I really don’t care if it’s the worst film ever made, I just want to see it! Of course this has led to me seeing a lot of mediocre or really bad movies. But I’m happy to report that The Hole is actually…pretty good. Not great, but worth a rental.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that the story is told Rashomon-style. For those of you who have never seen Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, that means that the story is told from several different perspectives. First we get one person’s version of the story, then another’s, then finally we see what really happened. The reason to tell a story this way is basically to compare the different versions, and be surprised by the differences in each version. Even though it’s the same story, each version plays out differently, so it’s like we’re seeing it for the first time. Lots of movies have done this, but Rashomon was apparently the first, or one of the first. (If you still don’t understand what I’m talking about, track down a copy of Rashomon and watch it. Thank me later.) In this case though, there’s a specific reason why the story has to be told several times, which I won’t give away, but once the ending comes it all makes sense.

I mention this because before seeing it, I was under the impression that the entire film was going to be set in that underground bunker, and I was surprised when that wasn’t the case. 40 minutes into it I’m thinking, “OK, what’s going to happen now?” and that rarely happens to me anymore. Despite what seems like a rather limited premise, this is actually a pretty clever and compelling little psychological thriller.

Director Hamm kinda struck out this year with the muddled thriller Godsend, which I thought had some interesting ideas and good performances, but didn’t seem to know what to do with any of them. The Hole shows a lot more promise. Hamm manages to do quite a bit with the claustrophobic setting, so we never get bored with seeing the same set over and over again. The bunker actually looks a little different in each telling of the story, shot from different angles, different lighting, etc. Plus he really knows how to crank up the tension when it counts, and that’s not a bad thing.

It also doesn’t hurt that he gets some excellent performances from his cast. The four main characters quickly establish themselves as individuals, without falling back on the typical stock teenage clichés you usually find in movies like this. Each of them is likable at times, and each of them is a complete asshole at times. You can’t boil them down to easily identifiable stereotypes like “The Slut”, “The Jock”, “The Smartass”, etc. Maybe it’s because they’re British. I don’t know, but it’s great that you can’t predict what’s going to happen to them, who’s going to do what to who, or which one of them might be hiding a secret, until well into the picture.

Thora Birch is particularly terrific here as the emotionally needy “outcast” Liz. She’s completely believable from the start, but as we discover new things about each character that change our perceptions of them, Birch is especially adept at playing all sides of a surprisingly complex character. Keira Knightley is also very impressive in a pre-stardom performance as the popular, mischievous Frankie (and her male fans will find a brief reward here, and will surely put their Pause buttons to good use). Desmond Harrington, who’s become something of a horror/thriller specialist lately (Ghost Ship, Wrong Turn, Love Object) is virtually unrecognizable as the spoiled son of a rock star. And Embeth Davidtz is sharp and sympathetic as the psychiatrist who’s given the task of trying to sort everything out and find out what really went on down there.

The only major problem I had is that about halfway through, we’re kinda tipped off as to who’s really manipulating the whole thing and why, so the ending seems anti-climactic. But despite that, this is a smart and interesting movie that’s well worth a shot. I can see why Dimension didn’t know what to do with it – it’s certainly not your typical thriller, and it probably would’ve been a little difficult to market, especially to fans of their Scream-style teen genre movies. But their loss is our gain, and hopefully this odd little gem will find its audience on DVD.

While it’s not an especially “scary” movie in the traditional “cat jumps on the windowsill” sense, I think that often the movies that reveal what human beings are capable of doing to each other are the most frightening. On that level, at least, The Hole is quite a chiller that’s not easily forgotten.

Now how about pulling more of those movies off the shelf, eh Miramax?

*** 3 stars. 11/19/04

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