Dane (Chris Massoglia) and his younger brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble) are moving into a new house, in the sleepy little town of Bensonville, with their mother (Teri Polo). Dane, an 18-year-old who finds his brother a troublesome inconvenience at times, fancies Julie (Haley Bennett), the girl next door. After a little fight between the brothers leads them into the cellar, they discover a bolted door and, when they open that, they find what appears to be a bottomless pit. Except that it isn’t. As ‘Creepy Carl’ (played by Bruce Dern), the previous occupant of the house says, “the darkness is in there and it’s going to get you.” And suddenly, the fears that Dane, Lucas and Julie have, start to manifest themselves.
I came into this knowing as little as was possible – I’m a big Joe Dante fan, but he hasn’t been at his best in the past few years (The Looney Tunes movie did me in, I’m afraid) – and, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much with the 12 certificate,
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which meant that I wasn’t at all prepared for the film. This is Dante back on form, back to his 1980s’ best and he rarely puts a foot wrong from the opening shots right through to the nice little shock moment at the end of the credits.
Opening on a pleasant suburban scene, echoing Gremlins, the family dynamic is quickly established – single mother, trying her best to keep her family’s collective head above water, brothers arguing one moment and sticking up for each other the next – and once Julie joins the little gang, the film kicks in. The fears that the heroes endure are, for a 12 certificate, genuinely frightening. Julie sees what turns out to be an old school friend, a creepy little girl with one shoe who cries blood tears. Lucas is persecuted by a clown/ jester puppet, and Dane sees a huge man, the father who beat him and his brother and mother, and who the family is now running from.
The acting is top-notch, with Massoglia and Gamble showing a real chemistry between them and Bennett fits in well. Teri Polo does well with a small-ish role (and sets up a nice possible sequel), and Dante regulars Bruce Dern and Dick Miller pop up (Dern has a fairly decent part and dialogue, Miller is the pizza delivery man) to add to the fun. The direction is steady and unshowy, though the early 3D effect shots (this was a 2D DVD) seem a bit clumsy and the production design is nice and homely. The special effects work well – from the subtle pieces right up to the nightmarish ending in the ‘hole’ itself – and the clown/ jester is a truly terrifying creation. I had a lot of fun with this – it’s well paced, has some smart dialogue and some nice little touches of humour and it’s really creepy in places. It’s well worth a watch.