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MOVIE REVIEW: 'The Hole' falls between both adult and young audiences

Special Photo: Bold Films From left, Nathan Gamble, Haley Bennett, Teri Polo and Chris Massoglia star in "The Hole."

Special Photo: Bold Films From left, Nathan Gamble, Haley Bennett, Teri Polo and Chris Massoglia star in "The Hole."

The Hole

(PG-13)

2 out of 4 stars

Screened at various festivals since its completion in 2009, "The Hole" is an example of what is only referred to sparingly within industry circles as a "Lovecraftian" movie. Named in honor of author H.P. Lovecraft, these are horror films that are generally lacking in shock value or graphic violence and instead contain elements of mystery or the unknown.

For the most part, the "Twilight" franchise could be considered "Lovecraftian" -- it's designed for teen and preteen consumption, more ominous and atmospheric than actually scary. The big problem with a movie like "The Hole" is that most adult horror fans will dismiss it as lightweight and younger audiences will find it too intense. Including only the slightest of romantic sub-plots, even "Twilight" fans will consider it wanting.

Depending on your perspective, "The Hole" is either all set up or all payoff. Although the two halves are connected thematically, the tones are so far apart it feels as if they are a part one and part two sort of thing. When it's over, you'll be saying to yourself "well, that was kind of obvious." At its core, "The Hole" is the basic of all childhood fables and almost every Hitchcock movie; it's what we can't see that scares us the most.

After living and moving out of a half-dozen big cities, Dane (Chris Massoglia) is especially bummed that his mom Susan (Teri Polo) has relocated he and his little brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble) to a small town in the Middle of Nowhere.

A dark sort with artistic inclinations, Dane unfairly takes out his frustrations on Lucas and Susan ostensibly because he's been robbed of his friends and metropolitan surroundings but makes a quick attitude about-face after catching a glimpse of his fetching next-door neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett). Squeaky fresh while carrying just the mildest hint of mysterious allure, Julie soon gets Dane to (relatively) mellow out and start behaving like a regular teen.

During one of their frequent early tussles, Dane and Lucas stumble upon a locked gate in the basement of their home which when opened reveals a big black bunch of nothingness. They drop various objects into it and receive no signs of life and after involving Julie in their quest, they lower down a camera. What is captured is unknown to them but is revealed to the audience and is as close to scary as the movie ever gets.

This things-that-go-bump-in-the-dark premise is nothing new to director Joe Dante, a former Spielberg underling who reached his creative and commercial peak with the 1984 gem "Gremlins." With "Gremlins" and every subsequent "Lovecraftian" horror feature Dante churned out over the following decades, he proved himself to be a master of an inconsequential sub-genre with extremely limited appeal.

The movie, slight as it is, is far better than what it appears to be on an initial view, which isn't saying much. It does address a commonplace and universal childhood fear and if your own children aren't too easily spooked, it can provide a valuable, if rather low-aspiring lesson. Considering it was produced three years ago, the 3-D presentation is quite impressive. While Dante goes the obvious route a lot of the time, he also knows when to lay low and when to use it to maximum effect (a scene set in a swimming pool is a perfect example).

"The Hole" is a movie that will likely die a quick U.S. box office death but will garner just enough attention to make a big cult favorite and future family home video staple. (Big Air)