Hidden away in the Irish woodlands, single mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake, Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope) has started a new quiet existence with her young son, Chris (James Quinn Markey). The scar across her forehead suggests that this new life is a way to escape her abusive ex-partner and, indeed, it looks like everything is coming up roses. That is, with the exception of two things: the giant – and we do mean GIANT – sinkhole near her home that hints at an estate agent having told some whoppers in order to get Sarah to buy the property, and the mumbling old lady (Kati Outinen, Dark Crimes) who continually blocks her route home.
When Chris goes missing one day, Sarah is sure that he’s fallen down the sinkhole, only to find him waiting for her at home when she returns from her search. Chris is adamant that he hasn’t been anywhere and, wishing to move on, Sarah is to draw a line under it all. And yet, Sarah can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right with her son. It could be that he’s suddenly popular at school. It could be that he’s forgotten their favourite games. It could be that, under the cover of darkness, she sees him scuttling around his bedroom trying to eat bugs. It could literally be any of these things.
Debut feature director and co-writer Lee Cronin attempts to throw some doubt into the proceedings via the medication Sarah is taking, as well as her history with the violent man she’s left behind. It’s suggested that Chris reminds his mother of her ex-partner and, as such, there’s always the possibility that Sarah is projecting on to him her fears that he will grow into his father one day. After all, he does share the same DNA.
Kerslake’s performance as a mother on the verge of a nervous breakdown grounds the film in reality, as we watch her slowly accept that there’s something not right with her son. It can be very easy to scream “Get out of the house!” at the screen when we’re safe in our cinema seat or on our comfy couch. However, how many parents, when push comes to shove, would do so? In Kerslake’s hands, Sarah’s plight becomes universal. Your child, your only child, seems off kilter. Surely, you’d protect him, because what if you are the reason he seems off. What if you’re projecting your insecurities onto him?
Meanwhile, young Markey shares the weight of the plot with his older co-star, managing to play Chris in a manner that doesn’t resort to pantomime gestures. If Sarah is to doubt her sanity then she needs to bounce off something convincing enough to warrant these doubts, and Markey offers that up with aplomb. All of which is bolstered by Cronin’s direction, which gives the very modern storyline a timeless quality. This could be literally set at any time and he would achieve the same effect.
All of which certainly makes for an interesting concept, but The Hole in the Ground nails its colours to the mast so quickly in the second act that there’s not that much wriggle room for debate. Not that that’s an overtly bad thing. It certainly didn’t hurt the likes of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and Brandon Christensen’s Still Born, both of which wrapped up their symbolism of coping with grief in the same gothic papoose as The Hole in the Ground. So while there’s plenty to enjoy here once the fog of confusion lifts, you just might find yourself wanting a bit more to chew on.
Atmospheric and haunting, The Hole in the Ground might not fully pull the wool over its audience’s eyes, but it manages to crawl under your skin when you least expect it.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘The Hole in the Ground’ will have a one-night-only screening across Australia on April 12th – details HERE.