Poor Joe Dante. It hasn't been his decade. He started his film career screaming hot. Everyone loved Gremlins. But something happened over the years. A bit of bad luck here, a sense of doing the same old thing there, and suddenly he's no longer the talent stud Hollywood thought he was. The Hole has been on the shelf for three years and is now finally released. Usually that's the sign of a full fledged bomb with a lit fuse. Is that the case here or is it another bout of Dante's unfortunate luck?
Honestly, I'll go with the second option. The film isn't the greatest thing since a hot pastrami sandwich, but it's not bad either. It's really a rather good spooky film for kids and that is certainly rare enough. In fact, I sense that maybe that was one of the problem as it straddled that awkward place in horror movies between scooby doo and one's first slasher movie.
The film is about a small family moving into a small town and finding a "gateway to hell" (as the girl next door describes it) under their house. The first part of the film builds nicely as the explore the hole as best they can. Then there's a nice spooky bit in the middle punctuated by a nice over the top performance by Bruce Dern as Creepy Carl. Then we get basically three different endings as each kid has to face their fears.
The film moves quickly (perhaps a little too quick) but it always has some time for Dante's shout out to other films. Like there's a scene where the youngest kid puts a blanket over a demonic doll that's a direct reference to Poltergeist. One other thing the film has time for is to work on the relation between the brothers. It perfectly captures the deep love and casual cruelty that can exist between brothers. On the one hand they are ragging on each other and throwing balls at each other's head but when the chips are down they will do anything for each other. The kids are good actors and really sell the fear they are having as real and not Hollywood.
Really there's nothing wrong with the film at all, it just lacked that one extra dose of fairy dust to make it stand out. I do hope Dante's luck will improve. He's made many films that have made me smile and I hope he makes more.