Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Movie Review: The Hole (2001)

I like horror movies, but I like specific types of horror movies. I prefer not to watch lurid slasher films and tend to stick to subtle psychological thrillers. As the students here are all out for summer vacation, I have a wealth of time to spend watching these.

The Hole is a 2001 film from the foggy shores of England, starring well-known actresses Thora Birch and Keira Knightley. Though these days Keira Knightley seems to be the shining light of the pair, due largely in part to her role in Pirates of the Caribbean, at the time of production Thora Birch was riding high off her acclaimed role in American Beauty. This film was actually the first significant role for Keira Knightley. On the male side, you have supporting actors from such works as Gosford Park, Shakespeare in Love, and the TV series Dexter.

The film follows a group of four private school students who decide to skip a school-sanctioned field trip and instead throw a private party in an old, abandoned bunker in the forest. From the beginning of the film it's obvious that this plan went horribly awry, and the rest of the film is made up mostly of testimony from Thora Birch's character, Liz. As the film progresses, Liz reluctantly reveals more and more about what happened in the shelter and how the four students freed themselves.

Of course, it's a psychological thriller, so expect some twists. The film lacks an ensemble cast, relying on the performances of six main characters. Although the flashbacks are played straight at first, around the first thirty minutes there is a Rashomon-esque swerve that can subvert your expectations. Liz has the biggest role, with her testiomony driving most of the film.

Thora Birch does a superb job of playing a shy, naive young woman who is forced to psychologically re-adjust to reality after surviving on scraps of food and dirty water for over a week. My criticism is that Thora Birch's character cannot pull of a convincing English accent, since the actress herself hails from California. Her love interest is played by an American and is labeled thusly in the film. Why couldn't they have just made her an American, too?

This is a good film. Not bloody (until the end), fascinating storytelling and stunning surprises await anyone with an hour and a half of free time to spare.

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