Welcome back, Joe Dante – you've been away far too long. Why did Hollywood turn its back on this guy? Dante's made some of the funnest movies ever – the original Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins, Innerspace, Matinee and Small Soldiers. But for much of the past decade, Dante's been making TV. Why? The big screen is his natural home, as the terrific The Hole proves.
Just like Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, Dante likes to set his horrors in suburbia. Dane Thompson (Massoglia) and his young brother Lucas (Gamble) have just moved from Brooklyn into a hew home, in a small town, with their mother Susan (Polo). The boys befriend cute neighbour Julie and soon come across a boarded-up, seemingly bottomless pit in their basement. Once open, all sorts of horrors are unleashed – a dead girl, a killer clown ... horrors from the pit of the kids' greatest fears, so to speak.
The Hole is Dante's best feature film since Small Soldiers, and far superior to his last big-screen outing, 2003's lacklustre Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Dante understands how to toy with an audience's fears; he knows what scares us, and he has a lot of fun ratcheting up the scares without going over the top – this is a family film, after all. And although it is a kid-friendly horror film, there are some genuinely creepy moments to be had – along with Dante's wacky sense of humour. With nice performances all round from the mainly young cast – Massoglia, last seen in Cirque Du Freak, is particularly good – the film is only let down by its reliance on unnecessary 3D "comin' atcha" gimmickery.