Traditionally, horror movie heroines were most likely imperilled teenagers. Recently, the embattled mum has become a stronger presence. This quietly spooky folk horror movie follows Under The Shadow, Hereditary and A Quiet Place in building a story around a mother fighting for a child — though Seána Kerslake’s frazzled, down-to-earth abuse survivor Sarah is as afraid of her son as she is for him. Kerslake is outstanding as a jittery, vulnerable woman who knows that her son isn’t her son but also that saying so just makes her seem mad.
The Hole In The Ground, written by Stephen Shields and director Lee Cronin, has a lot of plot in common with Corin Hardy’s Irish-set The Hallow but its mood is different, holding back on effects horrors in favour of a nerve-fraying waiting game between creepy kid — we know he’s a changeling, even as Sarah can barely bring herself to suspect — and the driven-beyond-her-breaking-point mum. Early on, omens proliferate: a madwoman (Kati Outinen) who once murdered her own son haunts the road, muttering about evil presences. A vast, ominous sinkhole in the woods further erodes anyone’s sense of security. Though Sarah tells her son Chris to stay out of the danger zone, she finds his favourite toy discarded near the hole. The boy who comes back from the woods shows personality changes, not all for the bad (suddenly, he can make friends with other kids and is willing to eat parmesan cheese). Of course, the Junior Angel act fools all other adults, making Sarah’s insistence that he isn’t her son seem even crazier — even when the new Chris starts having sudden, shocking bursts of supernatural strength.
After long refusing to embrace a literary heritage of horror that includes Bram Stoker, Sheridan Le Fanu, Oscar Wilde and a lot of unsettling folklore about ‘the little people’, the Irish film industry is finally latching onto horror cinema. For ages, the most important horror film made in Ireland was Francis Ford Coppola’s tyro slasher Dementia 13, but The Hole In The Ground comes out of a recent mini-boom of Irish creepiness (cf: Wake Wood, The Lodgers, The Devil’s Doorway, Dark Touch), rooted in primal forests haunted by old beliefs and gnarly vegetation… it’s even the second Irish haunted-sinkhole film of recent years (following Beyond the Woods). With all this activity, specific Irish horror sub-genres are emerging and — like The Hallow — The Hole In The Ground offers a dark reading of mythology that in the movies has tended to be jollied-up and overdosed with sparkly ‘Oirish’ cutes in the likes of Darby O’Gill and the Little People or even the faux-Irish Leprechaun series.