“I want to know the truth too.”
Guy Burt was 17 when he wrote the novel After the Hole in the early 1990s. In 1993, Director Nick Hamm, who had already developed quite a reputation for his directing work at Britain’s Royal Shakespearian Company and had recently branched out into television and film, read the novel and became intrigued with developing it into a film. The complex structure of the book did not readily lend itself to a film adaptation and it was only when Ben Court and Caroline Ip were brought aboard to work on a script that the film started to take shape. Long-time fans of the horror and teen genres, the two retained from the book only the idea of a group of teenagers being locked in a bunker and there being only one survivor. The events and motivations they introduced to the story were their own as was a framing structure involving a psychologist. The resulting film entitled The Hole was finally completed with financing from several British sources and released in 2001.
Seville Pictures has now released The Hole in a Deluxe Special Edition DVD in Canada.
At an exclusive private school in Britain, student Liz Dunn is madly but secretly in love with fellow student Mike Steel. When Liz hears that Mike has broken up with his current girlfriend, she seeks a way to attract his attention. Another student, Martin Taylor suggests a solution. In lieu of going on an upcoming geography field trip, he proposes that Liz spend the time in an abandoned Second World War bunker that he has found, along with several of her friends including Mike. Completely obsessed with Mike, she agrees and Martin persuades Mike and two other students (Geoff and Frankie) who all have their own reasons for avoiding the geography field trip to accompany Liz. The four will be locked in the bunker for three days and then Martin will let them out, Liz hoping that in the interim she and Mike will have hit it off. At the end of the time, however, Martin does not return and the four find themselves facing an unknown future.
This is not one of your standard teen slasher movies, although a look at the trailer might lead you to expect otherwise. This is a tale of obsession taken to extremes and it is solely your degree of acceptance of such a level of obsession that allows the film to work for you or not. The obsession in question is a teenage girl’s love for a boy at her private school and the obsession may be such that she will ignore the sickness and eventual death of her friends in order to gain that boy’s attention and love. There are questions about the whole scenario though. Does Liz’s desire for Mike only become a sick obsession because of the incarceration in the bunker? Or was it always that way and would inevitably have manifested itself, bunker or no bunker? As I say, how accepting you are of an obsession that in one sense is trivial yet so blinds a person that they are incapable of doing the right thing in the face of the obvious will determine whether you can accept this film as an effective psychological thriller or reject it as a superficial exercise in stupidity and inanity. The reaction may well be similar to the range of responses to another film about students who disappear in the woods — The Blair Witch Project (1999).
Much of The Hole‘s credibility must rest on the portrayal of Liz Dunn. Fortunately, the film benefits from the casting of Thora Birch in this role. The 20-year-old actress is best known for her fine work in 1999’s American Beauty and last year’s Ghost World. Birch’s most important contribution to her work in The Hole is being able to convey the ambiguity of her character so that one is never sure what is truth and what is fiction. She is able to maintain this uncertainty virtually throughout the entire film so that even at the end, one is not entirely sure that the whole truth of the story has been revealed. She has a face that she can switch from wide-eyed innocence to narrow-eyed deceit at will, never more effectively than at the film’s conclusion. It is her work that breathes life into the film. Her fellow students locked in the bunker with her are all stock characters who are played competently enough, but without any particular distinction by Desmond Harrington, Kiera Knightley, and Laurence Fox. Embeth Davidtz stands out as a psychologist who tries to draw from Liz the truth about what went on in the bunker.
Director Nick Hamm does a professional job with The Hole. His camera work is thoughtful yet never obtrusive. For example, he uses point-of-view shots to emphasize some parts of the plot, but he does so sparingly and they seem to arise naturally from the story rather than just being added as ego boosters. Hamm also effectively uses sudden, brief inserts of people or events that may or may not have existed or happened to convey the confusion that is in Liz’s mind. The film is well paced and uses Cliff Mansell’s eerie and disquieting theme music to build real tension.
Seville Pictures has done a top-notch job with its DVD release of The Hole. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is excellent. The image is crisp and clear and has obviously been generated from first-rate source material. Colours are vibrant and true; blacks are deep and glossy, and shadow detail is very good. Edge enhancement is not an issue.
Seville had hoped to be able to provide a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix for its DVD release, but this proved impossible at the last moment. We don’t suffer greatly by its loss, however, for the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround track that is provided is very good. It’s rich and dynamic with effective use of the surrounds. Even the bass effects are quite pronounced. A French stereo track is also included.
A nice package of supplements accompanies the film. The best item is the feature length commentary by director Nick Hamm. He provides a meticulous discussion of the film’s ongoing action that provides continuous insight into his camera and editing decisions, the structure and pacing of the film, character motivations, and his relationships with the various players, particularly Thora Birch. Hamm’s strong enthusiasm for the film comes across very clearly throughout his talk. This is one of the better commentaries that I’ve heard lately.
We also get nine deleted scenes running about a little over nine minutes in total. The scenes include complete dialogue and background music where appropriate. Some are simply longer versions of scenes used in the final cut while others add some insight to some of the events appearing in the film. While interesting, none appear to be indispensable and one can understand why all were deleted in the end. Included as well are a one-minute motion stills gallery and brief cast and director biographies and filmographies. The disc is rounded off with a full-frame original theatrical trailer (which portrays the nature of the film poorly) and a trailer gallery consisting of trailers for The Fourth Angel, Eye Of The Beholder and Mexico City.
I found The Hole to be an entertaining psychological thriller that belies the teenage slasher image that its trailer tends to give. A fine performance by Thora Birch in the film’s key role and solid direction by Nick Hamm raise this one above the general run of teenage/horror concoctions. Some viewers may have difficulty in accepting the obsession at the root of the story, but if you can see past that, the film is a good time-passer. Seville has provided a DVD presentation that allows the film to look and sound its best.