The Hole has the core components of a terrific Joe Dante comeback vehicle. It’s an impish horror-comedy about the macabre horror lurking behind the well-manicured lawns, picket fences, and stifling conformity of suburban life. It’s also a child’s-eye take on the haunted-portal subgenre that affords Dante his first opportunity to experiment with 3-D. Like earlier Dante classics The Gremlins and The Burbs, The Hole marries the fantastical, the horrific, and the mundane, but in this case, the fantastical isn’t that fantastic, the horrific isn’t scary, and the mundane is way too mundane. All the elements are here, they just don’t add up to a satisfying whole.
Released after two-years-plus on a shelf, The Hole casts Chris Massoglia as a moody, sullen teenager who moves to the latest in an endless series of new neighborhoods with his younger brother (Nathan Gamble) and his hard-working single mother (Teri Polo). At first, Massoglia is bored by his colorless new surroundings, but life becomes substantially more interesting once he discovers a hot, friendly girl living next door, as well as a portal to a nightmarish realm located in the bowels of their home. The portal harnesses the worst fears of those who encounter it—a creaky horror trope Nightmare On Elm Street has been driving methodically into the ground over the course of three decades and one reboot.
The Hole is the first theatrically released film Dante has directed since the big-budget 2003 flop Looney Tunes: Back In Action, yet it’s frustratingly devoid of the dark comedy, sly pop-culture riffing, and anarchic, cartoonish energy that have become his directorial hallmarks. The Hole takes forever to establish its creaky premise. It’s pokey, strangely underpopulated, and afflicted with a terminal case of the blands. The lead characters are little more than stock types—moody teenager, hot girl next door, overtaxed single mother—and the actors lack the magnetism and charisma to flesh out or transcend their roles (especially Massoglia, who is a glowering charisma-vacuum). When beloved Dante repertory player Dick Miller drops by for a cameo as a pizza delivery man, it’s a loving nod to Dante’s past that doubles as an unfortunate reminder of what he’s capable of at his best, and just how far The Hole falls short of his usual high standards.