The Hole in the Ground (3 stars)

The Hole in the Ground

Irish director Lee Cronin's first feature is an unsettling, well-acted horror

'Do you ever look at your kids and not recognise them?' single mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake) asks her employer Louise (Simone Kirby) in this atmospheric Irish chiller that plays out under suitably gloomy skies. With echoes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the debut feature of director Lee Cronin arrives fresh from scaring the bejesus out of Sundance.

When Sarah and her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey) move to the outskirts of a new town, things seem ominous from the outset. As Chris contorts his face in a circus mirror, his mum's haunted expression hints at a troubled past; they drive through a dark, dark wood during opening credits that quite literally turn their world upside down, and it's not long before the pair encounter a local crone with words of warning. Soon after, little Chris begins acting suspiciously.

As we watch her watching him, the terrific Kerslake (A Date for Mad Mary) provides the compelling anchor the film needs. It gives us a landscape where only the mad can really see, yet it's a recognisable enough world where women are abused, patronised, medicated into submission and dismissed. The hole itself proves a discomforting, oddly alive presence that almost seems to suck the oxygen out of the air, suffocating those that dare exist in its orbit; as an idea, however, it's a little underutilised, that is until Sarah gets her hands dirty during the dire straits of the finale.

The Hole in the Ground never truly sets itself apart, in the style of the superficially similar The Babadook, but nor does it feel so derivative as to drain it of suspense; the dread hangs heavy and Cronin – who co-wrote the script with Stephen Shields – delivers scares with aplomb. If it occasionally flirts with Insidious-like frights, there's an intimacy here that will keep you hooked. At its heart, this is a simple story of a quiet, capable woman trying to patch up her life, while it shows how a mother will go to hell and back for her child.

Selected release from Fri 1 Mar.

The Hole in the Ground

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • Ireland
  • 1h 35min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Lee Cronin
  • Cast: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Simone Kirby

Sarah (Kerslake) is a single mother who moves to a new town with her son (Markey); but there’s a horror lurking in the woods. Kerslake is terrific as a quite, capable woman who’ll go to hell and back for her child, and Cronin delivers scares with aplomb.