Lee Cronin mixes terror, suspense, and mythology into his feature directorial debut, The Hole In The Ground.
The film tells the story of Sarah and her young son Chris who move to a new home in the Irish countryside, next to a forest that hides an enormous sinkhole. One night, Chris vanishes, and when he reappears he seems unharmed and unchanged. But, as his behavior grows increasingly disturbing, Sarah begins to fear that the boy who has returned may not be her son at all.
I caught up with Cronin to talk about how stories on sinkholes inspired his film satisfying his desire of wanting to make a horror film.
Where did The Hole In The Ground start for you?
There wasn’t a single moment where it went off. I’d been reading about sinkholes and how they operated and there were some scary notions about taking you away and taking your life. I was also developing this relationship story between a mother and a son and this mistrust that might build off the back of a broken family or a damaged situation in their past. I had this title of a hole in the ground in mind.
It was a convergence of all of these ideas. The key thing was this relationship between the mother and son and that sense of overprotectiveness but also the darkness of the future that exists if you come from a troubled past. It all came together and revealed itself as I wanted to make my debut feature film.
There’s the mythology of the changeling. Was that a part of the story idea?
I leaned into it a little but not too heavily. The interesting thing about some Irish and Celtic mythology is you can take a little piece of it. You don’t have to take it all with you. There are lots of interesting ways of telling the story. You can use them in lots of different ways.
The changeling myth was useful to the story of doubt that I wanted to create here.
What was more key to me was looking at someone who you recognize and trust but then you question if it’s them at all. The motivation came from if someone has a child in an abusive relationship and they move on in their life, they still see some of their abuser in the offspring. That was interesting to me, the idea of mistrust and misidentify. It worked well along the other ideas and along the idea of the changeling mythology.
I liked that it was done with this idea of the angelic or demonic child.
Of course, I’m not one but any parent would know.
The film opens with the car going down the road and then the woods. It sets that horror setting immediately.
I wanted to open the characters in space without using dialogue. I wanted to show the situation that they’re in visually. I’m also making a psychological thriller, my version of a monster movie, and I wanted to turn the world upside down for people. I Wanted people to feel like they were creeping into the story and then surprise them right away. You buy good favor with an audience if you keep the surprises coming. Sometimes through a scare or a visual trick or cue. It was important even before that, if you look at the opening logos at the start, I created the soundscape as if you were under an avalanche. I wanted people to be unsettled from the get-go
What went into designing the sinkhole?
It was really challenging. It’s an inanimate object and so what’s the big deal. But the scale was really important. I wasn’t going to title it The Hole in the Ground and have it small. I wanted it to be cinematic and borderline fantastical.
I looked at a lot of photographs and sinkholes and how they look. I looked at how the soil was and it was pointing down so you get the sense of collapse from it.
It was creating the soundscape too. The key was to give it as much character as I could to make it an object of fear for Sarah but also for the people watching the film.
You capture her vulnerability. Between her and James as the child, how did the casting process work?
It was easy with Sarah and casting Seana. With James, I did more due diligence. I saw Seana in A Date With Mad Mary. I saw it and I saw her ability to project her internal thoughts and fears with such subtlety and grace. I called my producer and we stopped casting. We called her. I met her and we offered her the role the next day. She was different to what I expected. She challenged my thoughts and what the character could be. It’s a good thing to do to have someone who can give you a different perspective.
We looked at a lot of children but what I loved with James was his ability to be a regular kid and to be subtly different. He wasn’t dripping in this sinister nature. He just seemed slightly off and that was the key. He was right, but there was something in his eye.
I put them in a room together and let them build up a rapport.
How did you light those scenes when she’s in the sinkhole and the underworld?
I wanted it to be as real and as claustrophobic as possible. Lighting wise was a bit of a debate. I wanted as little light as possible. I wanted it to be driven by her torchlight and seeing what she sees.
The long shot where she’s in the tunnel was something I wanted to be as real as possible and it’s as narrow as it seems. We closed Seana inside a tunnel that’s hard to get through. I tried as best as I could to keep it as real and as tactile. I used the darkness as my friend because you don’t know.
The Hole In The Ground is streaming exclusively on DIRECTV and will be in theatrers 3/1/19