Pete’s Peek | Joe Dante returns to the Twilight Zone with The Hole

When anybody mentions Joe Dante’s name to me, my youth flashes before my eyes as Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins (true classics of their genres) and Twilight Zone: The Movie all came out when I was in college studying film. Being a big film nerd himself, Dante’s best movies are the ones littered with the kind of in-jokes only other film nerds (like me) get… His Amazon Women on the Moon and Matinee remain my all-time favourites.

Yep, spoofing is Dante’s forté and the filmmaker really showed what he’s made of with 1998’s Small Soldiers, his brilliantly twisted version of Toy Story. When I heard that the legendary director was tackling a 3D project entitled The Hole, I started to tingle all over as the synopsis sounded kind of cool – three kids find a trap door to a bottomless pit in the floor of their house, but they unwittingly release a supernatural force when they unlock it. So far, so good. Then I sat down to watch it…

Fresh from his stint as The Vampire’s Assistant, teen actor Chris Massoglia stars as Dane, your typical, pimple-faced, teen – he’s still scared of girls and harbours deep resentment towards his banged up dad. Newcomer Nathan Gamble (who really stands out here) plays Lucas, an overactive 10-year-old who is definitely the smarter, younger brother. Joining these modern-day Hardy Boys is their outgoing neighbour, Nancy Drew – sorry, I mean Julie (very capably played by Marley & Me actress Haley Bennett).

While the brothers’ single mum heads to her day job (what does she do?), Julie and the boys investigate the mysterious hole – but when they unlock it, their darkest fears are unleashed: Little Lucas, who has a fear of clowns, finds himself being stalked by a doll; Julie is haunted by a little girl with a bloody foot; while Dane senses his violent father has returned.

The Hole packs enough scares and chills to keep the story running – the sight of Julie’s ghostly girl crawling into the hole is a real shocker – but it’s missing Dante’s trademark humour: in fact my only chuckle throughout the film came courtesy of the Orlac Glove Factory sign; and as for Dick Miller’s cameo (what cameo?).

But this is darker, more mature Joe Dante here – not surprising given that Guillermo del Toro, that master of dark fantasy, had an uncredited hand in the screenplay. Dante also handles the 3D effects with real care; I especially enjoyed the scenes inside the hole, in which our adventurous trio find themselves trapped in a surreal Salvador Dali-in-Wonderland landscape. Even in conventional 2D, it all looks pretty good.

All-in-all The Hole is a dark, enjoyable ride back into The Twilight Zone.

Released 17 January

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To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.