Director: Lee Cronin
It’s difficult to think of a country more entrenched in history, magic, and legends, than Ireland. Add to that a population with more than it’s fair share of literary horror talent, and it is frankly amazing that we don’t have more of a horror film lineage. So with the impending release of Irish horror; The Hole in the Ground, I waited with baited, but cynical breath.
Director Lee Cronin immediately sets the scene without any clumsy exposition; we’re instantly aware of emotional scars and a subsequently discordant relationship between the mother and son, thanks in part to the excellent acting of Seána Kerslake and James Quinn Markey. Cronin makes persistent use of mirrors and reflections throughout, almost as though they are representative of the characters; cracked, warped, hidden, and if not careful, completely shattered. Our first introduction to Chris (Markey) is through a warped window reflection, sinisterly telling of the events to come.
Sarah (Kerslake), and her young son, Chris, move to a large rural house on the edge of a forest after a hinted-at period of duress, and soon discover a gargantuan sinkhole hidden in the trees. Chris mysteriously disappears one night, only to reappear quickly as if nothing had happened, and from here on Sarah starts to notice some marked behavioural differences in him. From this point onwards we begin to see how intrinsically rooted in Irish culture the plot is; according to legends, fairies entered our world to steal a child and leave one of their own in its stead. Historically, mental or physical illness, personality changes, and undesirable behaviours were too difficult to understand and hence were explained away through stories of changeling children. Even now, in Ireland we still harbour the superstitions that fairy forts or trees should never be touched, conjuring up images of nymph like miniature humans with wings. But here we don’t get the chance to familiarise ourselves with this representation of fairies, as instead they are truly demonic creatures that we would expect more from a Clive Barker novel rather than a children’s fairytale.
Tom Comerford’s masterful cinematography immediately flips the world as we know it on it’s head and instantly makes us aware of a different perspective, an unnatural parallel that ties in with Cronin’s use of mirrors. There was a certain craftsmanship in both the writing and the set design that will be even more rewarding on a second viewing; the pattern on the chair in the sitting room, the stage set in the school, and the eerie song sang by the children, all reference back to the woods. Not to mention that the hole in the ground is potentially an inverted fairy fort.
The colour palette is subdued and muted, echoing the struggles that this small family unit have experienced, and their environment in rural Ireland. If you have ever spent an amount of time here, then you will be aware of the sense of isolation that leaving the city or town limits will afford you. The stars at night may be brighter, but how fast and far can you run if you’re in peril?
Following in the footsteps of recent supernatural psychodrama horrors, Hereditary, and The Babadook, we’re immersed in a mother’s psychological struggle. The audience is led to believe that a changeling has replaced Sarah’s son, but armed with the knowledge of the trauma that she has experienced, can we really be so sure that it isn’t the dissolution of an overburdened mind? In the wake of a ruptured familial relationship it could be proposed that the boy’s increased need for affection and concordant improvements in behaviour may be the result of an attachment disorder, and his apparent increased strength could merely be a delusion of his mother’s, who fears a genetic connection to Chris’ father. This could be paralleled to true life stories of changelings in the past, where children’s or spouse’s unwanted changes in personality were blamed on otherworldly involvement rather than being grounded in reality, and therefore leaves the uncomfortable suggestion that the real changeling could in fact be Sarah.
The Hole in the Ground plays on the traditional legends of Ireland with a great deal more finesse than it’s contemporaries. Telling the age-old tale of the mistrust of youth, done with great success in the likes of The Omen, and The Exorcist, Cronin leaves a few questions unanswered in order to leave the audience guessing whether The Hole in the Ground is a film with its foundations in the supernatural or metaphorical. What it does do for sure is tell of a promising future for Irish horror, one that has set the bar high for others to reach.