A young, single mother makes attempts at a fresh start with her son in the rural backwoods but soon a disturbing encounter with a neighbour shatters her sense of safety. Sarah (Seána Kerslake) descends into a void of paranoia and uncertainty as she tries to navigate if the changes in her son is connected to a mysterious sinkhole located in the nearby forest. The Hole in the Ground is an evocative, Irish, folk horror that builds layers of mystery and intrigue accompanied by exceptionally strong performances.
Lee Cronin director of the award-winning, Méliès d’Argent short Ghost Train (2013) creates a haunting piece of film, reminiscent of creepy 1970’s style horror. It’s an absorbing film from start to finish as the storytelling slowly builds up leaving plenty to the imagination, keeping the audience on edge, anxious to find out which direction events will lead in.
Refreshingly, despite embracing certain specific horror tropes, e.g. the crazed neighbour, the sense of isolation and the principal character sinking into a state of uncontrollable paranoia, Cronin completely avoids generating scares through sudden loud noises to unsettle his audience. Instead, he takes a subtler approach by creating an overwhelming sense of fear and dread within the atmosphere. Visually, The Hole in the Ground is undeniably bleak with the implementation of dark colours. This aids the melancholic mood which is unwavering throughout. The sweeping shots of the landscape adds to the idea that the environment depicted is all consuming and emotionally draining as reflected in Sarah’s plight.
The mother-son dynamic between Sarah and her son Chris (James Quinn Markey) is the driving force behind the film. Both actors do an exceptional job in creating a believable relationship between the two. Sarah comes across as a struggling single mother, determined to stand on her own two feet however Kerslake evokes a real sense of strain as she attempts to build a new life for herself in an isolated environment.
Her descent into paranoia is portrayed organically, it’s a slow climb before she reaches that point, unsure if she can trust her own instincts. James Quinn Markey proves he is a talented young performer in his role as Chris. He combines an innocent demeanour with a sense of something not being quite right. The authenticity surrounding these characters allows the audience to effortlessly invest in them, intrigued to discover where their story will conclude.
Kati Outinen also deserves a mention, as she plays the creepy, disturbed neighbour in an unsettling fashion. Her performance is skin-crawling while at the same time conveying a sense of sadness and tragedy around her.
The Hole in the Ground is skilfully shot and edited, as the story progresses, the transitions between the everyday and the surreal become blurred. Particularly, the school play sequence, with the use of zooming camera angles and close-ups cleverly showcasing Sarah’s whole world closing in around her, heightening her anxiety. All the elements from the cinematography, editing, performances, and the direction are brilliantly crafted.
The Hole in the Ground is a chilling, rural horror film that pays homage to the creaky house style sub-genre while delivering a compelling story. It’s best experienced knowing very little and to just become soaked in its unsettling atmosphere. Lee Cronin has created a debut feature genre film he can be proud of.