In Title Matchup we pit two films with the exact same title against each other to see comes out on top. In a tweak of the format, this versus match is between three pictures: Joe Dante’s The Hole (2009), Nick Hamm’s The Hole (2001) and Tsai Ming-liang’s The Hole (1998).
The Hole (2009)
A quiet neighbourhood in the secluded town of Bensenville becomes the site for ghoulish terror when Dane (Chris Massoglia) and his younger brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble) uncover a mysterious hole in the basement of their new home. The discovery provokes the lovely line, “Is that what you do for fun in Brooklyn? Play with your holes?” from Julie (Haley Bennett), the cute girl next door, when she comes to greet her new neighbours. The hole, as it turns out, is no ordinary bottomless pit, and the trio soon find themselves confronted by mystical, ghastly beings that emanate from the dark void. Joe Dante’s fantasy horror film is unabashedly derivative in its plotting, but for a movie primarily targeted at a family audience, it does possess a fair share of scary moments; most of which involving a creepy clown doll. Though the lead is awfully monotonous and the last twenty-or-so minutes descend into a semi-incoherent mess, The Hole, for the most part, is a passably entertaining adventure movie with a few good quips.
The Hole (2001)
Young Liz (Thora Birch) has a problem. She has the hots for Mike (Desmond Harrington), the school’s cool kid, but he barely acknowledges her existence. So what do you do? Why, lock him and yourself inside an abandoned underground nuclear shelter of course. This is the premise for Nick Hamm’s The Hole and joining the couple in this “ingenious” weekend retreat are Frankie (Keira Knightley) and Geoff (Laurence Fox). The perceived plan is for one of the other students, Martyn (Daniel Brocklebank), to let them out after a couple of days, but when he fails to show, tensions inside the bunker rise – or at least, that’s Liz’s side of the story. This claustrophobic psychological thriller has a promising, if ridiculous, setup, but the performances are so exasperatingly caricatured and the characters are so thinly drawn out that it becomes a chore to spend any decent time with them. The time-hopping narrative structure deflates the potential for major suspense, and makes for fairly predictable twist when it finally comes.
The Hole (1998)
In recent years, Taiwanese cinema has seen an upsurge on the festival circuit, but while gaining many international plaudits, it has developed a reputation for often being narratively impenetrable. This is evident with Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin, which drew praise for its sumptuous imagery and detractors bemoaning its near-incomprehensible plot. Tsai Ming-liang has attracted similar remarks over his career, but The Hole is easily one of his most accessible works to date. Set in an ambiguous future, the film centres on an unnamed man (Lee Kang-sheng) and his downstairs neighbour (Yang Kuei-Mei) who reside in a rundown building complex. The two live isolated existences, but are forced to confront each other when a shoddy plumbing job causes a hole to appear between their respective apartments. With a story exploring themes of voyeurism and estrangement, it’d be easy to mistake this for a depressing watch, but the drama is injected with surreal moments of black comedy, including some wonderful fantasy musical sequences set to the songs of the Mandopop icon Grace Chang. It’s familiar yet distinct, dour yet vibrant, melancholic yet hopeful – it is Tsai at his manic, brilliant best.
Hate to sound like a “arthouse” snob and always pick the more obscure option, but Tsai is a genius and I have no qualms in calling this a masterpiece. His Hole is the best Hole.
Winner: The Hole (1998)