Joe Dante returns to coming-of-age horror with the 3D film The Hole, which is essentially a psychological thriller imparting a lesson.
Luckily, Dante and writer Mark L. Smith (Vacancy) never get too preachy with their message.
The Hole needs strong marketing to find its audience, however. Today's adolescents, at whom the film is aimed, have grown up on more hardcore stuff and probably aren't familiar with the director's biggest hit, Gremlins. On the other hand, older Dante buffs may be turned off by a teen movie. But the ride is enjoyable, and there is enough camp, warmth and chills to make this a family film.
After their latest move around the country with their mother (Teri Polo), brothers Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble), along with their neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett), discover a bottomless pit in the basement of their new house. In reopening it, they unleash a mysterious, evil force that seems to haunt only those who have looked inside the hole.
Adults should figure out why before the kids do, as each character is forced to face his or her innermost demons. A moody teen terrified with unresolved family issues, Dane will have to protect the little brother he usually shuns, and Julie will make amends with a tragedy from the past. Gamble draws the short straw in his climax, in a sequence with a clown that never scares. Then again, a 10-year-old's fears can only run so deep.
The young stars do fine with their material though they don't always hit all the emotional notes. But that's to be expected with the kind of life-changing catharses that can only happen in the movies. Massoglia looks like a young Zac Efron, if that's not a contradiction in terms, and ably carries the film, while Bruce Dern is great in his cameo.
The 3D is used to good effect, though maybe not enough. It's great when we're in the hole looking up at the characters or when a baseball is tossed in our faces, but The Hole would probably work just as well in 2D. The film's finale benefits the most from the technique, in an off-kilter set straight that looks like a video game of Alice in Wonderland.