Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Cinema File #46: "The Hole in 3D" Review

Whereupon even one of my favorite directors falls to the siren song of filming in 3D, and churns out possibly the worst movie of his career (and after Looney Toons Back In Action, that's saying something).

The Hole in 3D was filmed a couple of years ago, but only just released on DVD from what I can tell, and since I don't remember it ever coming to a theater near me, this was the first chance I had to see it. Joe Dante has always been one of my filmmaking idols, with an odd, off kilter sensibility always blending comedy, horror, science fiction, and fantasy into unique and usually very fun original movies. He makes the kind of movies that I hope to make some day, with an almost child-like imagination that inspired me to want to inspire kids like me. That is to say, he used to do that. Outside of the two arguably best entries in the recent Masters of Horror anthology series, the last Joe Dante film I really enjoyed was 1998's Small Soldiers, and even then it felt a bit hollow compared to his earlier works. The Hole 3D, unfortunately, is not a return to form, and in fact might just be his lowest point.

The Hole follows two young siblings moving into a new house who discover the titular orifice in their basement, which when opened releases creatures that take the form of the worst fears of anyone who looks down into it. Given the young protagonists, one would expect Dante to establish a more whimsical tone in keeping with some of his more kid friendly work like Explorers or Eerie, Indiana, but instead he makes the odd choice of establishing no consistent tone whatsoever. Some moments are lighthearted fantasy, others are dark and twisted with imagery right out of a Japanese ghost kid movie, and neither feels authentic as the movie bounces from one to the other. It would help if any of the characters acted like they cared about anything that was going on around them, but they are so blaise or just plain wooden so much of the time that I can't invest in their experience once the story picks up in the second and third acts. Characters take far too long to admit what they know to be supernatural occurrances happening all around them, and fail to get on the same page until long after reason dictates they would have, leading them to delay action and place themselves in further danger only because the plot demands that they not act more rationally.

And it seems so bizarre to me that you would establish this mysterious thing from which any number of other mysterious things are expected to spring forth, and you manage to pick the most boring cliched thing you could possible have to jump out of it. Beings that personify fear? Really? Something a little more creative than that from the guy who gave us the freaking Gremlins isn't too much to ask. It doesn't even have to be something new, just not something I've seen a million times in a million other horror movies. And the fears themselves are so lame and predictable. When I told you the premise, did you guess that one of them would be afraid of clowns, and then be attacked by a clown? Well, congratulations, you've seen other movies before. The climax inside the dark universe of the hole is admittadly stylish and fun to look at, but the ultimate reveal of the form the last fear monster takes is just painfully obvious, to the point that it brings down what could have been a solid ending to an otherwise mediocre movie. I don't generally require a deeper, complex mythology to the supernatural elements in my movies as long as what we get is interesting, but with so little to engage with here, I needed something a little more concrete than "a hole with scary stuff in it."

Once again, obviously, I did not see this in 3D, but as with all 3D movies, I can see where the technology may have been an asset or a liability by watching the 2D version. Here, I just don't see why this story was thought to be even visually interesting enough to be considered for this medium. I would guess that the few scenes of traveling down the hole are too dark to have looked good, and there isn't enough here that screams for a need to have it pop out at me. There aren't even really any jump scares that may have been enhanced by the technique. It certainly isn't atmospheric in any way that would justify it, except maybe for the last ten minutes which doesn't seem worth it to me. Even if I was a fan of 3D movies, I imagine this one would have probably been underwelming.

By the end (which is as anti-climactic as all hell), I just wanted something, anything better to come popping out of that damn hole, be it Gremlins, Living Toy Soldiers, or even Microscopic Dennis Quaid. Anything but this weak sauce of a plot that barely held my interest. Bruce Dern shows up as the crazy prior owner of the house, living in a room filled with lights to push away the darkness he's come to be afraid of, and its probably the only interesting part of the film, but it is at best an extended cameo. He's out of the movie far too quickly, and if I had had my druthers, I would have made the whole thing follow his character decending into madness rather than these annoying little brats who can't bring themselves to emote in the face of what I'm supposed to believe is otherworldly terror.

If you're as big a Joe Dante fan as I am, best to stay away from The Hole. The chances that the full 3D experience will elevate this bland story is very minimal, and after a decade of middling contributions to cinema, its probably a good idea not to go out of your way to have your opinion of the man diminished any further. I have faith that one day he'll be back making good movies again that capture the spirit of his earlier work, but until he climbs out of the hole of his creative drought, I'll be forced to look elsewhere.

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