Films From Bobby’s Childhood – The Hole in Review

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I have a rather elaborate story about how this movie and I came to know each other. It was a day like any other in Art class. For some reason we had to cut pictures out of magazines, for use in a collage I think. But I came to a page that was detailing Keira Knightley’s rise to fame. She was just about to star in Pride and Prejudice, and the article was examining all her notable roles beforehand. The first one on the list was about a ‘dark British thriller’ titled The Hole. I looked it up later and thought the synopsis sounded good. But as this was 2005 I couldn’t just walk into a DVD shop and find it. And I was kind of broke so I had to wait until Christmas before I finally got my hands on it. I actually spent a ridiculous amount of time reading up on it, looking at Amazon reviews etc. So I was well read up on all the background information. Needless to say I got up early on Christmas morning and watched the DVD before the sky had even got light. It’s a movie I’ve watched a lot over the years, so why not do a review?

We open as teenager Liz Dunn stumbles towards her posh boarding school, dialling for the police and screaming into the phone. She and three school chums – Mike, Geoff and Frankie – have been missing for eighteen days. A police psychologist is tasked with trying to get the story out of Liz. She reveals that the four of them were trying to miss a school field trip to Wales, and that Liz’s friend Martyn helped them out. Owning the keys to an old war bunker near the school, he arranged for them to stay down there to wait the trip out. Liz’s main reason for tagging along was because she’s been pining over Mike for ages, and hoped they would click during their stay. Of course Martyn also had feelings for Liz, so that must be why he never came back to let them out. But when the police track Martyn down, he has a rather different account of what really happened. So Liz’s testimony is suddenly in doubt.

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As this film is pretty much a thriller – though the trailers made it look like a horror movie – there are a few twists and turns. So I’m not really able to go further without spoiling them. I’d urge you to watch the film yourself if you don’t want to get spoiled – because I can’t review the movie without talking about the plot twists. So from here on out SPOILERS at your own risk.

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I referenced this film quite a bit when I reviewed Cry_Wolf back in October. Watching the two of them together, both films are quite similar. And that is mainly down to the behaviour of the female lead. I’ll get down to examining Liz in a bit. This is a film that literally divided fans and critics alike when it came out. Its rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a solid 50%. If you read the IMDB boards on it, the posts are either about how great it is or how stupid. For once my opinion doesn’t lie somewhere in the middle. I’m on the side of the former. This is an incredibly cunning and intelligent film that really knows how to play its audience. I can still remember my first viewing of it and the effect it had on me. It’s not as intelligent as something like Fight Club, Shutter Island or The Skeleton Key where the big twists really floor you. That’s evident in the many posts detailing how easy it is for ‘the plan’ to fall apart. I’ve gone back over the events plenty of times – and believe me I’ve watched the film enough – to determine whether or not it holds up.

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“Choose your words carefully, Bobby.”

The revelation is that Liz actually kept them locked in the bunker all along. When Mike looked like he was ready to leave, she locked the door to keep them all in there. Martyn was just an innocent pawn. But a lot of people appear to have missed certain things in the film that help Liz fool everyone. So for convenience sake, I’ll try to answer every question people have in response to the supposed ‘plot holes’.

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Insert obvious hole-related pun while we’re at it then.

Can’t the psychologist just tell them the truth?

The big point of the ending scene is that the psychologist’s credibility is now doubt. She’d slowly been getting the rest of the police worried that she was obsessed with Liz. She wouldn’t let the other detectives question her and was rather inappropriately going out to lunch with her. What’s more is that the situation Howard finds them in looks very much like Philippa abducted Liz from her house and forced her into the hole. Liz’s mother calls the police herself to say that the woman has run off with her daughter – and the smashed biscuit tin in the house would just make it look even more suspicious. So with that evidence against her, the police have reason to doubt anything she says.

Why isn’t Liz a suspect?

Liz is not a suspect because they have no reason to suspect her. From the beginning of her story, they suspect Martyn. And he *did* give Liz the key and show her the bunker. It’s important that Liz is never a suspect until she and Philippa are down in the hole again – at which point the police have already found Martyn’s body. Liz’s sessions with Philippa are on tape and all they show is a clearly distressed and traumatised young girl – not a manipulative sociopath. Any gaps in her story are explained away as her becoming paranoid from the dehydration – which the pathologist outright says. More cynically, the media loves a damsel in distress. The world fawns over a poor girl who’s been through trauma. For the whole film Liz looks like a victim and not a suspect.

Wouldn’t they question how she got out?

There’s a scene where Howard says to Philippa “she must have picked that lock for days” to explain how she could have escaped. While down in the hole there is a shot of Geoff picking at the lock – so forensics would find evidence of the lock having been tampered with. A few people seem to have misheard or misunderstood some things about the bunker. The first is that it only locks from the inside. This isn’t the case – as we see Martyn unlocking it from the outside in both sets of stories. Liz’s line is “we weren’t locked in from the outside”, not that the bunker doesn’t lock from the outside. The second is that people have mistaken it for a nuclear fallout shelter. Martyn refers to it as a “war bunker” – meaning it was a bomb shelter during World War II. So the door opens both ways, with no need for sealing up any frames. CSI ain’t magic. When you find an unlocked door with clear evidence of someone picking the lock – and no sign of a key – the obvious conclusion is that the lock was picked until it opened. Again they have no reason to suspect Liz until she’s back down there, so why should they?

Didn’t they realise her story was a lie?

Well they *did*. There’s a gap between the two sessions Philippa has with Liz. In the first session, Liz tells her about how they came to be in the hole. In the second she makes up the story about them surviving – to make herself look as if she’s so traumatised by the events that she’s repressing them. That’s why the psychologist continues to see her after she and Martyn have been discharged. But the psychologist is not letting anyone else question her, and by the end of the film her word is in doubt.

Martyn’s convenient suicide

The police have no reason to suspect that Liz killed him. Even Philippa has no reason to until she and Liz are once again back in the hole. He was released from custody and then appeared to have jumped into the river, the key in his possession. The police already want to pin the case on him, and that’s essentially an admission of guilt.

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“I believe you call that a ‘checkaroonie’.”

The last point is something I will admittedly mark the film down for. I think it was a bit of a missed opportunity. DCS Howard at least hints at the possibility that he’s so outraged by what’s happened that he may just be projecting onto Martyn as a way of venting his frustrations. The whole movie could have done with some scenes to establish that everyone is shocked and outraged by what has happened to four innocent children – and that they want justice. That would tie nicely into Liz implicating Philippa; since she makes it look like she desperately wanted to solve the case – that she forced Liz back down into the hole to get her to confess. It would also make for a great commentary on the media’s obsession with young white women in distress – by having the girl in question as the real villain.

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She still gets to do plenty of screaming, so everybody wins.

Liz is played by Thora Birch, who received a highly publicised seven figure salary for the role. At this point in time, Thora Birch was a star on the rise. She had found fame as a child actress – with notable roles in family films such as Alaska, Patriot Games, Now and Then and Hocus Pocus. She had also really hit it big with American Beauty. Along with her young co-stars Wes Bentley and Mena Suvari, Thora Birch was given a lot of hype by the press. But within a couple of years it would all fade to nothing. Birch would get a Golden Globe nomination for her next role in the comedy Ghost World, but audiences would stay away. Over the years her roles would get steadily less notable and she would fade into obscurity. So it may come as a surprise that she was the most recognisable star in the film at the time.

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Three guesses which one is the original poster.

I compared Thora Birch’s performance to that of Lindy Booth in Cry_Wolf, and they are two sides of the same coin. I said before that there aren’t a lot of roles like this for young actresses – especially in films not aimed at a female audience. And Birch does an incredibly good job. Her English accent comes and goes but ultimately remains solid enough. It’s not bad enough for me to mark the film down. Liz makes for such a mysterious character that it’s just impressive to see Birch at work here. As the twists come out, we’re constantly second-guessing ourselves when it comes to her motivations. On the most obvious level, Liz is clearly a sociopath. She locks them all down in the bunker – and allows two people to die just so she can have a chance at Mike. But then again Liz actually *was* planning to reveal the key at two separate times, only for something else to interrupt her. And she shows genuine remorse for the deaths of her friends. There’s one particular line after Frankie’s death where she screams “I’ve killed all of you” and it seems like a moment of actual remorse. The film leaves it open as to whether or not Liz actually is sorry for anything she’s done. There are plenty of moments in the film that hint at it, and Birch’s acting leans towards it. But by the end Liz just seems to view the experience as “something that went wrong” and not something worth ruining her life over. What’s even more impressive is how Birch completely suckers us in at the beginning of the film – just as Liz does to Philippa. She portrays herself as this sweet innocent victim and gets us to root for her. Then as the truth slowly comes out, we realise she’s played us – just like she plays everyone else.

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It’s entirely up for debate just how much acting Liz is doing in the first half of the film. We’re lead to believe at first that she’s so traumatised by the events that she’s repressed them and imagined a happy ending for herself. But as we discover that she’s responsible for the events, we’re instead supposed to believe that she’s just making all of it up to get away with it. But then the film does contradict the theory that Liz is self-aware from the start; there are plenty of moments outside the hole where she appears affected by what she’s done. We don’t see Liz’s sociopathic side emerge until she’s back in the hole with Philippa. So it’s certainly plausible that she repressed locking them in, and doesn’t remember until she’s back down there. Going back to the nature of remorse, you could argue that Liz did have some goodness in her before the events – making a bad decision after a day’s worth of drinking and drugs – and that witnessing three people die horribly broke her completely and turned her into a complete sociopath. Note the suicide pact she proposes with Mike after Geoff is killed; is that just her hoping to avoid the legal consequences of what she’s done? Or is that something she views as an actual punishment for herself? So overall it’s up to you whether you see Liz as being completely sociopathic for the whole film, or if her few redeeming qualities are lost when Mike dies.

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The first half of the film – showing Liz’s version of the story – tells us a bit more about her character after it’s revealed she’s lying. Note how melodramatic it is; half the build-up is about Liz trying to get Mike to notice her. This is about three teenagers going missing and eventually dying, and Liz is more interested in talking about her obsessive crush. And her version of the story has Martyn locking them in purely to show her that she should love him and not Mike. Liz essentially tells a story of two men fighting over her. What’s more is that you can see how the first story paints Liz as the responsible one of the group. She comes prepared with everything for the trip – enough food, enough equipment etc. Likewise when the boys are fighting, she’s the mediator. And she figures out Martyn’s plot in the story. The others are much flatter characters in her version than they are in the real flashbacks; Mike’s a bland boy next door, Geoff is a trolling wise-cracker and Frankie is a silly ditz. Then there’s the more superficial things such as Mike and Geoff’s gratuitous shirtlessness…

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It’s great to see the other actors at work playing two different sets of characters. As noted above, they’re much flatter in Liz’s version events. It plays out like the set-up for a typical teen slasher film. Then in the actual flashbacks, we see them coming across as a bit better-rounded. There are loads of little details that help the three feel like actual people. For example there’s mention of Mike’s run-ins with paparazzi and him being rebellious against his rock star dad. Geoff has reference to being in the army cadets and thus having knowledge about dehydration. Frankie doesn’t have much of a backstory, but the friendship between her and Liz is surprisingly well developed. Frankie is really trying her hardest to get Mike to click with Liz, and it gives the impression that she at least cares about her friend’s feelings. It’s not exactly quality writing but they hit the right points to flesh out these characters more than the standard teen horror cast.

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The standard teen horror cast would have more boobs and cigarettes.

So how about that Knightley chick? Although this is a cast of very noted and respectable actors – Desmond Harrington (Mike) would be recognised from Dexter, Laurence Fox (Geoff) from Lewis, Embeth Davitz (Dr Horwood) from Matilda etc. – Keira is the most recognisable star in it these days. It might be surprising – if one isn’t too familiar with her earlier work – to see her in such a role. Keira eventually got typecast into playing coming of age ladies in period pieces, exaggerating her accent and pouting excessively. In the years around her rise to fame, it seems as though Ms Knightley was doing her very best to avoid getting typecast into these English Rose characters. In this particular time period, she starred in a series of films where she played troubled moody girls – King Arthur, The Jacket, Domino etc. This role is very much like those; Frankie drinks, smokes, curses, has lots and lots of sex and even flashes her breasts for a couple of seconds. Did we mention that Keira was only fifteen at the time? It’s quite possible to look back at an established star’s early work and cringe – Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth, Christian Bale in Newsies, Naomi Watts in Tank Girl, Paul Newman in The Silver Chalice – but Keira comes close to stealing the show here. She and Thora Birch have some very good chemistry with each other, playing up the friendship between Frankie and Liz very nicely. Both make their characters come across as realistic people rather than one-dimensional drunk party girls. Frankie’s death is simultaneously the most horrifying and heart breaking moment in the movie. So it really is no surprise that Keira Knightley made it big and netted some Oscar nominations. These days she seems to have embraced her costume drama type casting, and roles like these are a rarity for her.

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But if you know the twist in Atonement, this will be quite entertaining to watch…

This film didn’t make much of an impact when it was first released. It went straight to DVD in America two years after its UK release, and didn’t do much for Thora Birch’s career. The film seems to have steadily grown in popularity over the years. It was almost impossible to find it when I first wanted it. But as time went on, I started seeing it in shops and on TV more often. Presumably this is due to Keira Knightley’s career taking off – and lecherous fans wanting a chance to ogle raw Keira in prime condition. It’s always been one of my favourites. The Hole is a film that’s full of a lot of twists and turns, and so you sort of need to watch it a few times to really see everything. Some are quick to point out the flaws in the story – but a lot of the stuff is actually there in the film. You just have to go back and watch it again. It seems like it’s a typical teen horror movie, but manages to be so much more. All four leads are well developed and nicely acted – especially the two girls. It admittedly takes a while to get going – and the first act is almost painfully over dramatic. But it’s a legitimately good film. I have very little bad things to say about it. My final rating is an 8/10 – more people should be made aware of it.

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