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THE HOLE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Thora Birch, Desmond Harrington, Laurence Fox, Keira Knightley, Daniel Brocklebank, Embeth Davidtz
Director:  Nick Hamm
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Seville Pictures
Features:  See Review
Length:  102 Minutes
Release Date:  March 19, 2002  
NOTE:  Exclusive Canadian release.

Film ***

As a nearly catatonic, disheveled girl walks through the abandoned corridors of her school, she carries with her a mystery.  Under the watchful eye of a psychiatrist, she begins to tell not only her story, but the story of four of her classmates as well.  It’s a strange, disturbing tale of a situation gone horrifically wrong…and it may not be all true.

Such is the premise of Nick Hamm’s The Hole, a simply structured but daring tale of dread and suspense that actually puts a different spin on the teenage horror film by compounding a very basic and real fear—being buried alive—with a sense of unfolding it through the eyes of an unstable character we may not be able to rely on.

That character is Liz (Birch), a young student in England, who slowly begins to tell her story to a psychiatrist (Davidtz).  It’s a tale of love and obsession, starting with her crush on Mike (Harrington), the school’s sole American and son of a famous rock star.  She turns to her best friend Martin (Brocklebank) for advice, and it’s clear that Martin has unreciprocated feelings for her.

He makes a clever arrangement to help her out.  When Mike and two other school chums Geoff and Frankie (Fox and Knightley) decide they DON’T want to go on their geography class field trip at the end of the term, Martin brings them, along with Liz, to a hidden bunker/bomb shelter in the woods.  There, they can spend their last three days camping out and having a good time, while the school thinks they’ve gone home and their parents think they’re on the field trip.  It also will give Liz a chance to be with Mike in an enclosed space for a few days.

As Liz recants the story, Martin doesn’t return to unlock the door when the time is up…scary stuff, but it seems to work out okay in the end.  At least if you believe Liz’s story.  But if her story is true…why is she the only one of the group we see being questioned?

As the investigation into the bunker grows deeper, and the psychiatrist realizes more and more that Liz isn’t telling the whole truth, the secrets of the hole begin to come out, slowly but surely.  It’s an unsettling tale that doesn’t have the harmless ending Liz scripted for us…instead, it’s a grisly tale of sex, drugs and booze turning into claustrophobia, paranoia and panic as the lights grow dim, the food and water run out, and death begins to creep in.

I’ll leave the plot description as that.  The film satisfies, intrigues, and indeed, repulses with its turns.  It’s difficult to say how much of the final acts were really surprising, but they were audacious, and filmed with boldness where others might have opted for timidity.

Nick Hamm is a director with a terrific sense of pacing, editing, visual style and dramatic flair.  The Hole is a picture that opens up early to a lot of possibilities, and because of its structure, doesn’t necessarily find itself forced to pick just one and stick with it. 

His cast of young actors is good, headed by American beauty (no pun intended) Thora Birch, who turns in another noteworthy performance as Liz.  Her external emotions and internal turmoil provide the picture with its sense of necessary ambiguity.  When she begins to tell her story, the audience is hooked in, and will remain so for the full ride.

It’s a shame this movie didn’t get more notice in this country…with the thriller genre making a strong new stand at the box office, pictures like The Hole can more than stand their own against by-the-numbers movies like Don’t Say a Word. 

Video ***

This is a good anamorphic offering from Seville…images are generally very sharp and clean, and color rending is natural and well-presented throughout.  Occasionally, there is a bit of softness associated with darker images…black clothing, for example, shows little detail, but that’s a minor complaint.  Low lit sequences come across very well and deliver maximum effect.  Overall, a commendable effort.

Audio ***

Though only a stereo mix, the soundtrack is lively and dynamic, with plenty of front stage panning action.  The musical cues are mid-range, but the effects and screams deliver quite a punch.

Features ***

This Deluxe Special Edition disc includes a good commentary track from director Nick Hamm…a little one-note, perhaps, but filled with good information and never sparse.  There is also a reel of 9 deleted scenes, a stills gallery (about a minute and a half’s worth), a trailer, and some bonus previews for other Seville titles.

Summary:

The Hole is a strange, unique, disturbing and ultimately satisfying thriller, turning a few days of fun into a claustrophobic nightmare of survival for four young students.  Thora Birch leads a strong cast, and director Nick Hamm proves to be an artist worth keeping an eye out for in the future.  And that’s the “hole” truth.