The first feature film directed by Joe Dante in some time, 2009's The Hole makes a slightly late debut on Blu-ray, but better late than never. If this isn't his best movie, and few would argue that it is, it's still a good time at the movies, a nice mix of the type of fantasy and light horror that have made a lot of Dante's earlier pictures so much fun - but it doesn't offer up a whole lot we haven't seen before.
The film follows a woman named Susan Thompson (Teri Polo) who relocates from Brooklyn to a suburban home in Bensonville with her two sons Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) in tow. Given that the kids have been moved around a lot, neither are particularly happy about having to relocate again, with the older brother Dane taking it unusually hard. Things change for the better when they meet their new neighbor, a beautiful young lady named Julie (Haley Bennett) who they immediately hit it off with. Before you know it, there's a little spark of something sweet going on between Julie and Dane and understandably his mood starts to improve.
Things seem to be going well enough for the boys once they settle in until they're exploring the basement with Julie one day and come across an entrance to... something in their basement. Secured with a bunch of locks that they are eventually able to remove, the three open it up and find what they believe to be a bottomless hole - light does not reach the bottom and when they drop a few things down into it, they hear nothing. They even go so far as to tie a camcorder to a rope and lower it down as far as they can to try and figure out what this is all about, but there's no luck. Soon, however, strange things start happening around the house: a creepy little girl appears to Julie, Lucas' fear of clowns comes into play and a strange old man named Creepy Carl (Bruce Dern) arrives, claiming to have once been the caretaker responsible for sealing the hole. As the kids learn more about the hole, they try to seal it once more, but it seems to be fighting back...
The Hole isn't bad, but it isn't great either. It starts off quite strong, building a nice sense of mystery and impending dread and giving us enough background information on the characters so that we can understand why they act the way that they do. Particularly important is the attention paid to Dane so that we realize he's been through enough to justify his mopey teenage attitude that we see in the beginning of the film. When he and Julie hit it off, we like them together - they make a nice, cute couple and we see in him a nice change, the kind that makes the fact that his younger brother is constantly hanging around less annoying to him. The film also builds up nicely to the discovery of the titular hole. As the kids wonder just what exactly they've found, so too do we, and while they may not realize bad things are coming, the audience certainly does and so tension is built and expectations are set. From here on out, however, the movie deals mostly in clichés - not that there isn't some fun to be had, and younger viewers may be blissfully unaware of where older viewers will have seen some of this before, but this doesn't turn out to be a particularly original story when it's all said and done.
That ghostly little girl? She could have appeared in any number of recent Japanese horror films, the Ring and Tomie series being easy examples. The creepy clown? Well we've seen that before too, even in PG rated horror films like Poltergeist. Oh and a crazy guy who wanders around looking threatening and creepy who knows more than anyone gives him credit for? Take your pick... Friday The 13th did it well.
The film is nicely shot and scored (though long time Dante fans will miss the late Jerry Goldsmith's contributions here, they really did work very well together!) and it moves at a good pace. The acting is solid and the locations used are very effective. There's enough to like here that the movie is worth seeing, especially if you've got kids in or around the target demographic that are getting into horror movies that might not be ready for something more adult. But a little more originality would have gone a long way. It's still nice to have Dante back doing this type of thing, however - here's hoping he doesn't stay away as long this time.
The Hole arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 transfer in 1080p high definition. Aside from the fact that a lot of the shots in the film would have obviously been more impressive in 3-D as intended, there's not much to complain about here. Detail is quite good throughout the movie not just in close up shots but in medium and long distance shots as well and you'll notice strong clarity in the human element that makes up the movie as well as the sets and backgrounds used. Colors look nice throughout, though much of the movie takes place in a darker setting so there aren't a lot of scenes that really pop here the way a more colorful movie would. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and as this was shot on digital and transferred from a digital source, there are no issues with print damage, dirty or debris. No serious compression artifacts were noticed during playback and edge enhancement and noise reduction never came into play here. All in all, the movie looks quite good in high definition.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, with optional subtitles provided in English SDH and Spanish. This is quite an impressive track and it definitely makes quite a few of the more active scenes more effective than a 2.0 mix would have. Rear channel activity is common during much of the movie, with the activity in the basement zipping around behind you while most of the dialogue comes from the front of the mix. The score sounds very good here and is spread out throughout the set up rather well, while the levels remain properly balanced throughout. As you'd expect with such a recent film, there are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the performers remain easy to understand throughout the movie.
There isn't a whole lot here in the way of extras, just a few short featurettes but they are worth checking out. The first one is The Keyholder and it's a three and a half minute collection of talking head interview clips with producer David Lancaster and actor Nathan Gamble joined by Dante to briefly talk about Bruce Dern as Creepy Carl, but in place of any input from Dern himself we instead get a lot of clips from the movie we've already seen. The four and a half minute Relationships is a discussion with cast members Nathan Gamble, Chris Massoglia and Teri Polo joined by screenwriter Mark L. Smith that covers how and why the relationships between the family members anchor the film. The Making Of The Hole clocks in at just under twelve minutes and is a fairly promotional look behind the scenes of the movie made up of clips, footage shot on set, and interviews with most of the key cast, Dante, Lancaster and a few other crew members. The effects used in the film are covered in the five minute A Peek Inside The Hole where Gamble and a few of the effects guys talk about making the movie in 3D and about the effects that were used to create a few of the movie's key scenes. Rounding out the extras is a still gallery, menus and chapter stops. All of the extras are presented in high definition. As this is a combo pack release, a standard DVD edition of the movie containing the same extras as the Blu-ray is also included.
It should be noted that although the film was intended for theatrical release in 3-D, that no 3-D version of the movie is included in this set.
Is The Hole the movie that Joe Dante will be remembered for? Probably not, but it's definitely a fun movie with some stand out scenes, a few cool characters and just enough style to work, making it worth seeing at least once. The Blu-ray release doesn't hit a home run in the extras department but it does offer up the movie with a great transfer and very strong audio. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.