Big Awful Friday: 'The Hole' flawed yet compelling thriller

By Ed Robertson, atomictown.comNovember 29, 2012 

It's easy to pick out which movies have been adapted from books.

Typically, the characters are a little sharper. The structure might be less linear. Things explode just 40 percent as often. Since they're drawing from so much source material, such movies can be a richer experience.

But this also makes them tougher to get right. Tricks that work fine on the page might look flawed or obvious on the screen. In 2001, The Hole hit both the ups and downs of adapting from a book.

Thora Birch desperately wants to be noticed by classmate Desmond Harrington. When he's dumped by his girlfriend, she arranges a weekend party with him and two friends in a remote bunker. But when they're locked underground, their holiday turns deadly.

Pretty great-looking concept, that. Four kids stuck in a hole with minimal resources! You can guess where this is headed. A round-table discussion of the proper allotment of sandwiches and tea, no doubt. But the horror of their confinement isn't really what The Hole is about.

Right off the bat, it's established that Birch escaped the bunker after a maddening 18 days trapped below ground. Yet she tells the investigator a different story. Either someone doesn't know the difference between four and 18--and in that case, I have some four-dollar bills for sale--or we may not be getting the whole truth.

That truth is not revealed very expertly. It can't really be called a twist, since director Nick Hamm spoils it in the very first scene. Yet it's not much of a mystery, either. The information is simply withheld, then revealed when it is time to end dramatically.

Know what, though? Despite its structural shortcomings, The Hole is pretty good. Hamm's direction is assured, and he's got a great young cast, including Keira Knightley in her first feature movie. Is she a stuck-up popular girl? I don't know, and that's a rude thing to ask. But her character sure is.

The others are equally well-drawn, with strongly defined personalities that hint at deeper backstories in the book. They're prone to believably teenage fits of annoyance and infatuation, too. Is that insulting to teenagers? Ah, who cares, they don't read newspapers anyway. We can call them anything we want.

Due to its structure, it's fairly predictable, robbing a potential potboiler of some of its steam. Yet its core situation remains compelling. It's the kind of movie that makes me want to seek out the book.

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