The Hole in the Ground is certainly not the first horror film to poke and prod at parental anxieties. Even in the Midnight section at Sundance this year, there are at least two other films working in the same thematic zone: The Lodge, a step-mother-in-crisis scare-fest with obvious affection for The Shining, and Little Monsters, a Shaun of the Dead-like zombie comedy set in Australia. Both wrestle with questions about the responsibility of leading a family unit. The Lodge, the follow-up feature from the team behind 2014's Goodnight Mommy, frames the issue in stark, violent terms, using cults and mental illness as plot devices to examine Riley Keough's character's unravelling. Little Monsters, which stars Lupita Nyong'o as a school teacher tasked with defending her class during an attack from the undead, has a touch of optimism to it. Still, neither will inspire viewers to start a family any time soon.
Of the three, The Hole in the Ground has the most fertile soil. A large part of the credit must go to Kerslake, who brings a vulnerability and tenderness to her troubled mother, and the young child actor Markey, who channels Haley Joel Osment's work in The Sixth Sense with his tentative movements. Even when Chris is combing his hair like a robot or singing a skin-crawling folk song at a school recital, you want him to be pulled back from the brink. In that crucial way, the movie understands a key part of this sub-genre: The child can't be a lost cause. If the creepy kid isn't worth saving, then what's the point?