The Hole In The Ground is a horror movie that Ireland can be proud of
Irish cinema can do great comedy. And great drama. But venture outside of those genres, and quality levels begin to dwindle.
Claiming that The Hole In The Ground is the best Irish horror movie ever made may initially sound like damning with faint praise, given the competition.
Last year's The Cured was decent, as was 2014's The Canal, but nothing really managed to get beyond mediocre. Shrooms? The Lodgers? Stitches? Horror just doesn't seem be something that Irish cinema really had a handle on.
Director and co-writer Lee Cronin had already made a name for himself with his creepy short films Through The Night and Ghost Train, and with his feature debut, he initially seems like he is just trying to smush together as many scary movie cliches as he can manage.
Single mother Sarah (an exceptional Seána Kerslake) is trying to start anew, moving to a rundown house on the edges of a small town near an expansive forest. She and her young son Chris (an attention-grabbing James Quinn Markey) are settling in well enough, until one night Chris goes missing in the woods. When Sarah eventually finds him, he no longer seems to be the same energetic, bright-eyed boy he once was, and Sarah takes it upon herself to find out what happened to him in those woods...
Clip via WildCard Distribution
So we've got creepy kid, creepy house, creepy forest, as well as a creepy neighbour (played with unhinged vigor by Kati Outinen) and her exposition-y husband (James Cosmo, essentially in the Brian Cox role from The Ring) who attempts to fill in some of the narrative holes for our heroine.
However, instead of just becoming the horror movie equivalent of a box ticking exercise, Cronin takes each of these cornerstones of scary movies, and tilts each of them slightly, imbuing them with a darkly psychological reason for being there in the first place. To say what that reason is would give away some of the nastier surprises that the film has in store for the viewer, but there is a cleverness to tricking the audience into thinking they've already got the movie figured out, only to pull that rug out from under them.
It was also a stroke of genius to pin the majority of the movie to Kerslake's soul-piercing performance, as she truly does some wonderful stuff here. In a just world, her Sarah would be mentioned alongside Toni Collette's Annie in Hereditary or Essie Davis' Amelia in The Babadook, each one a modern version of the traditional 'Scream Queen', but given far more to do than just screech and look scared, and each one of them rising to meet that challenge.
Combined, and yes, we've got the best Irish horror movie ever made, and not just because it clears the relatively low bar set by the rest of the genre in Ireland, but because it stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the world in the genre, too.
The Hole In The Ground is released in Irish cinemas on Friday 1 March.