In cinemas Fri 1 Mar 2019

In recent years there have been a few exceptional films revolving around a mother trying to protect her child from supernatural forces, The Babadook and Under the Shadow being the most notable examples. Lee Cronin’s Irish-set horror The Hole in the Ground follows this template and comes within spitting distance of those two modern classics.

The film opens with Sarah (Seana Kerslake) and her son Chris (James Quinn Markey) having recently moved into a country house near a forest. After an argument Chris vanishes into the woods and when Sarah follows him, she finds the titular hole in the ground (an impressively unnerving effect) whereupon Chris suddenly appears behind her, apologetic and apparently unharmed. It doesn’t take long before Sarah begins to suspect that there is something wrong with her son.

There is something definitely off about Chris.  He appears to have small bursts of unnatural strength and goes from being terrified of spiders to munching on them when he thinks no one is watching. However, it’s not all bad, he seems to have a healthier appetite and is making friends easier than before. The film hints that it might all be in Sarah’s head, possibly caused by the stress of running away from an abusive partner. She is also told the story of an elderly neighbour who believed her son had been replaced before running him over with her car, potentially on purpose. There is the possibility that this story might have put the idea in her mind.

Kerslake and Markey are both excellent in building a believable relationship as mother and son. Markey is especially good at modulating his performance just enough that he appears normal but there is just something oddly unnatural about the way he reacts to his mother. The way that Sarah slowly starts to fear her son and can’t bear to be around him is insidiously well handled. The film walks this tightrope of low-key dread and uncertainty between mother and son until the final act where all hell breaks loose.

The Hole in the Ground is superficially similar to Corin Hardy’s The Hallow in using the location of a house near a forest and touching on the similar theme of the changeling, except that it favours slow burn creepiness over the special effect driven monster mayhem of that film.

A fine addition to the always welcome creepy kid genre.