This review originally ran during Thrillist's coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. The Hole in the Ground is now available on DirecTV, VOD, and in select theaters.
Early in The Hole in the Ground, the debut horror feature from director Lee Cronin, a wide-eyed child makes funny faces in a mirror during a long car ride. One of the boy's favorite activities is to play a game with his mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake) where the two count down from five and then suddenly distort their appearances by wrinkling their noses, sticking out their tongues, and furrowing their brows. Then they stare at each other with these gruesome expressions, waiting to see who will break into fits of laughter first. As a filmmaker, Cronin is playing a similar game with the audience: He draws out tension in each scene, pummels the viewer with music, and dares you to break your gaze -- or giggle in fright.
As a storytelling method, it's not exactly novel for a horror movie, particularly one debuting in the Midnight Section of the Sundance Film Festival, which has given us films like The Babadook, The Witch, and last year's Hereditary. Like that Paimon-worshipping, Toni Collette-starring arthouse hit, The Hole in the Ground comes from noted indie distributor A24, who released the film via DirectTV on January 31 and in select theaters in March, and it also features a terrifying child at its center. That's where the similarities end: Where Hereditary had an absurd sense of humor and an austere style, The Hole in the Ground takes a more head-down, meat-and-potatoes approach to the genre. It might not linger in the imagination as long, but it delivers effective scares throughout and -- most importantly -- never lets up. That's why it's already one of the best horror movies of 2019.