Dante’s Inferno

12A *  92 mins * 22 September 2010
Distributor: E1 Entertainment
Director: Joe Dante
Cast: Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble, Teri Polo, Bruce Dern

Family-friendly frights are a tricky thing to pull off. Push too hard and you risk traumatising pre-teens in the audience, too little and no-one is left clinging to the arm rests. Fortunately Joe Dante has form, having directed bona fide kid-horror classic Gremlins and adults-only fare such as Piranha and The Howling. But after two decades away from big-screen scares it seems the man who goaded the censors by microwaving a puppet may have gone soft, because his latest is about as bloodcurdling as the prospect of driving over a pothole.

Gimmick-du-jour 3D is the big selling point here – and what better showcase for its blurry, muted-coloured wonders than a never-ending pit located in the basement of Dane and Lucas Thompson’s new suburban home? As they and jailbait neighbour Haley stare into it, it causes the trio’s deepest darkest terrors become reality and the only way to stop the nightmare is to face their fears head on. New gimmick, same old clichés, then.

An ’80s throwback given a 21st century sheen, The Hole feels hopelessly dated from its opening frames, with every domestic horror trope – from the single mother family to dolls springing to life – rolled out for a new generation. The kids populate a world where adults exist only on the fringes and to serve the story, while the dialogue is ripe, the performances stilted and frequently awkward, the story conventional and safe.

Yet, in spite of all this, The Hole hits all the right notes for its target demographic – the younger end of the scale at least – and Dante still has the chops to make it visually compelling for the rest. One room-of-lights sequence is particularly awe-inspiring, while a madcap puppet attack is worth the asking price alone – it’s probably the closest we’ll ever get to a Dante-directed Gremlins sequel.

Jordan Farley