92 minutes

Joe Dante's long-awaited return to directing has become a strange orphan - unveiled at the 2009 Venice film festival, this little-seen tribute to classic low-budget scary movies of the 1950s has yet to open in its native US while receiving staggered releases around the world. It may be - it is - a minor work from the director of The Howling and Gremlins, but it's also a recognisably solid entry that fulfills mr. Dante's avowed desire to do an entry-level scary movie meant for younger audiences, a mild fairground ride that draws exactly on the continuing appeal of the genre: the fears the darkness preys on.
     Those are made literally physical here, as surly teenager Dane (Chris Massoglia) and his tween brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble) find a bolted trapdoor on the basement of the smalltown house they just moved into, opening it to find a seemingly bottomless hole whose discovery brings up a number of strange visions and events. The Hole's strengths are also its weaknesses in the current film environment: mr. Dante knows how to deploy its limited cast and budget to maximum effect, and he proves that you don't really need to show the scariest things, but that old-fashioned simplicity looks somewhat out of step in these days of graphic, more-is-better genre filmmaking.
     As in so many genre titles of the 1950s (and that throwback is cheerfully admitted by mr. Dante), the 3D is merely a gimmick tacked-on for novelty value (the film doesn't really need it), but at least it's done tastefully; somehow, it's hard to think of this slight but charming throwback to early horror modes finding its way to modern-day multiplexes when it has more in common with the teenage drive-in material the director cut his teeth in working for Roger Corman and that never fit properly on "decent" theatres.

Starring Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble; with Bruce Dern; and Teri Polo.
     Directed by Joe Dante; produced by Michel Litvak, David Lancaster, Vicki Sotheran, Claudio Faeh; written by Mark L. Smith; music by Javier Navarrete; director of photography (Fotokem, 3D), Theo van de Sande; production designer, Brentan Harron; costume designer, Kate Main; film editor, Marshall Harvey; visual effects supervisors, John Gajdecki, Robert Skotak.
     A Bold Films presentation, in association with Benderspink, of a Michel Litvak production; produced with the participation of the Province of British Columbia Production Services Tax Program. (World sales, Bold Films.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 12 (Lisbon), April 14th 2011. 


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