Movies: The Hole 3D ***
(15A, general release)
Readers of a certain age will have a special place in their hearts for Joe Dante, who in the early 80s brought a playful wit to the sci-fi and horror genres with films such as Gremlins, Innerspace and The Howling. He's back to somewhere near his best with The Hole, a clever little thriller that seems a throwback to a gentler kind of horror film. If at times this feels like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, that's certainly no bad thing, and Dante shows considerable skill in sustaining a rather slender idea for 98 very entertaining minutes.
When Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) Thompson move to a new town with their mother, Susan (Teri Polo), Dane is not too happy about it. He's a withdrawn 17-year-old who may already have problems relating to his notably absent father, and a move from Brooklyn to an obscure upstate burg has not helped his demeanour.
His mood lifts when he notices a very pretty girl his own age next door and when he's too shy to introduce himself, his lively little brother Lucas does it for him. When Julie (Haley Bennett) joins the brothers in the basement of their new house, they find a trapdoor that's been heavily padlocked.
Not an especially good idea, then, to open it, but that's exactly what Dane, Julie and Lucas do, and inside they find a deep, dark hole that seems to have no bottom. They close it up and think no further about it, but the darkness has seen them, and pretty soon odd things begin to happen. A creepy Joker doll begins appearing unbidden on Lucas' bed, Julie starts seeing visions of a ghostly little girl, and Dane becomes convinced a large man is hiding in the house. The hole has summoned their deepest fears, and there seems no way of stopping it.
Dante builds his tension nicely, and peppers his film with just enough wit but not too much to undercut the suspense.
There are good performances from his young actors, especially Gamble who carries much of the comedy, and Dante makes sly references to his own and other films that will satisfy the 80s buffs.
It's great fun, and only wobbles towards the very end, when Dante is required to make sense of what's been happening.