Posted on March 4, 2019

The Hole in the Ground: the Strangeness of What We Think We Know

Dawn Keetley

Written and directed by Lee Cronin (along with co-writer Stephen Shields), Irish horror film, The Hole in the Ground is a wonderful slow-burn film that relies on the formidable talents of its lead actors—Seána Kerslake as Sarah O’Neill and James Quinn Markey as her son Chris—as well as the beauty of the enveloping landscape. Cinematographer Tom Comerford and director Cronin make the most of their locations in Kildare and Wicklow, Ireland—and the forest, surrounding the hole at the center of the narrative—is itself as good as a character. The Hole in the Ground is an incredible entry in what seems to be a veritable renaissance in Irish horror.

The story follows Sarah as she moves with her son far from the city to begin a new life—away from the boy’s father who, as Chris put it, made her sad. (We learn very little else about Sarah’s relationship with Chris’s father, other than a large cut she has on her forehead.) One night, Chris disappears, appearing mysteriously back in the house after Sarah has searched everywhere for him. After his return, Chris seems different, alien. Sarah goes from uncertainty to certainty—finally becoming convinced that he’s an imposter. “He’s not my son,” she repeats. The film keeps us in some doubt, for a while, about whether Sarah is just imagining her son’s strangeness; she’s prescribed pills, and both her taking and then not taking them are suggestively linked to what might be her delusions. It’s also possible that Chris only seems like an imposter to her because her feelings toward him have changed: tellingly, things go wrong after Chris gets angry at Sarah for taking him away from his father.

Check out the trailer for The Hole in the Ground here:

The film seems to offer a resolution, though: yes, there is something different about Chris. For one thing, Sarah is not alone in her conviction that her son is an imposter. She comes to believe so only after meeting an elderly neighbor who was herself convinced, when her son turned eight, that he was no longer her son. This neighbor, played with full-on creepiness by Kati Outinen, screams at Sarah that Chris isn’t her son before Sarah herself even thinks it (So, Sarah could also be suffering from a form of emotional contagion.)

The Hole in the Ground

Sarah (Seána Kerslake) and Noreen (Kati Outinen)

The ending of the film—the inevitable descent into the hole in the ground—is brilliant, and it’s where the director delivers something really original. It’s not necessarily that all the elements of this ending are original, but the way they are but together is. Indeed, it’s the way that Cronin weaves together horror tropes, especially in the climax, that makes this film really interesting. By the time we get to the end, I can see traces of five films in particular: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Pet Sematary (1989), The Descent (2005), Wake Wood (2009), and The Hallow (2015). The way The Hole in the Ground plays with these films—evokes them, echoes them, transforms them—is deeply enriching.

At a much broader level, The Hole in the Ground combines science fiction with something that feels a lot like folk horror. There may be aliens here (or there may not), but if there are, they are creatures of and in the earth—rooted in this place in rural Ireland, shaping the lives of local residents. Are they from beyond Earth or are they creatures very much of our planet? Are they our future, our past, or our present? These questions aren’t answered, and if monsters exist, it’s never clear where they’re from.

The Hole in the Ground

Sarah walks the edge of the hole

In the end, The Hole in the Ground works at a psychological as well as a supernatural level. It could be about the fragility of woman who seems to be an abused wife and an insecure single mother. It could be about how children are always becoming strange to their parents, straining at the very limits of recognition as they age. And then the ending suggests that not only may Sarah’s son be a stranger to her but Sarah may have become a stranger to herself. Beyond the psychological and even the human, though, the film is also about the vast unknown that surrounds us—and it’s not just in space: “Keep watching the skies!” warned a character at the end of 1951’s The Thing from Another Planet. The Hole in the Ground reminds us that the strange and alien also dwells in our forests and in our earth. What we don’t know about that thing we call “nature” matches what we don’t know about ourselves, about our own nature.

In his book Dark Ecology, Timothy Morton adeptly described the “basic mode of ecological awareness” as “anxiety, the feeling that things have lost their seemingly original significance, the feeling that something creepy is happening, close to home” (p. 130). This is exactly what The Hole in the Ground dramatizes–and induces in the viewer.

You can stream The Hole in the Ground on Amazon:

And it is also out on DVD:

And here is Timothy Morton’s Dark Ecology:


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