Sarah O’Neill (Seána Kerslake) is a single mother to a young son, Christopher (James Quinn Markey), who has moved to the Irish countryside to get away from a past, and a partner, she is reluctant to discuss with the new people she has met locally. On the journey home to their cottage one day, she worries that Chris is not making any friends himself at his school, and just as she is about to pursue this line of thought with him, someone steps out in front of her car, causing her to stop abruptly, just short of crashing. She gets out and approaches the man, then is disquieted to see he is a hooded figure who is whispering to himself and will not answer her questions. Sarah doesn't know what that means...
And you may not know what it means either in a horror movie that was keen to keep its mysteries potent, so even by the conclusion you were not one hundred percent sure of what had gone on. You had a fair idea, as this was not so obscure under Lee Cronin's direction that you were baffled from minute one. What he did concoct was a pleasing sense of confusion where at least you could be certain there was something not right about this situation, yet had questions as to both Sarah's sanity or, if you were more accepting of the supernatural, the safety of staying out in the middle of the forest when there were faerie folk to contend with, and they did not fit too many stereotypes.
One legend they did appropriate for this was that of the changeling, for The Hole in the Ground was one of those creepy kids movies. Ever since The Bad Seed back in the nineteen-fifties, evil children in starring roles had returned again and again to the screen, the most celebrated probably being Damien in The Omen, itself a reaction to Linda Blair's innocent possessed antics in The Exorcist, but the whole notion of those blameless little darlings actually being amoral little monsters was enjoying one of its comebacks in 2019 with contemporaries like The Prodigy and Brightburn. The Hole notion, if you will, was that Chris is not who he says he is, as Sarah comes around to the idea that he is an imposter.
Have the faeries spirited the real little boy away and replaced him with one of their own? The film kept an amusingly ambiguous approach to the last image, as there was a twisted sense of humour detectable which may be missed under the overall gloom that Sarah is making her way through. Kerslake managed to be sympathetic in a way that was not some over the top, screaming victim, but as a completely ordinary young woman who has become mired in extraordinary circumstances, be that her experiences with her son's father (who it is strongly hinted was abusive towards her, and she got out of there before became abusive towards the boy), her mental state which has been under a false sense of security since she moved to this rural area, or the possibility she has been "noticed" by sinister forces.
Some found The Hole in the Ground too slow and uneventful for its own good, yet adjust to its pace of keeping it low key to better highlight the scenes where things really got weird, and you would be rewarded. Sometimes that would be down to a scene that was so absurd in what it was depicting that it became oddly transgressive (when the Chris changeling puts his enhanced strength to good - or bad, should we say - use), though the script by Cronin and Stephen Shields did struggle a shade to wrap their plot up and put the titular hole to good use. It was a striking visual, this pit in the middle of the woods, but it did not make much of an impression on the characters until right at the final ten minutes and naming the movie after it did put Bernard Cribbins' novelty song in the head of those who recalled that. But these are quibbles: if it failed to tie up its loose threads with aplomb, it was a neat item of folk horror otherwise, another subgenre of chillers that was making a comeback from the twenty-tens. Music by Stephen McKeon.