Tag Archives: Joe Dante

The Hole (2009, Joe Dante)

The Hole is, I believe, intended to be a family-friendly (I can’t believe PG-13 movies are now supposed to be family-friendly) horror film directed by Joe Dante. As opposed to Dante directing a family-friendly horror film. It’s Joe Dante doing work for hire, something I’m not really familiar with him doing often.

Dante’s direction here is fantastic, even if there are the occasional “3D ready” shots. He actually doesn’t do too many of them and instead concentrates on maintaining a constantly ominous atmosphere. Only after the story resolves itself does the narrative get predictable and start falling apart. I’ve never seen those “Goosebumps” videos, but I imagine they’re a lot like the last fifteen minutes of The Hole.

But until then, it goes very, very well.

All of the credit goes to Dante, who doesn’t just construct the atmosphere, he gets good performances out of his young cast. The film’s short and small–it takes place almost entirely in one house–but the low budget doesn’t reveal itself until the end, when it wouldn’t matter anyway. So Dante’s basically got three actors–Chris Massoglia, Nathan Gamble and Haley Bennett–acting scared in a restricted area.

The script unfortunately requires Massoglia to frequently be way too thoughtless when it comes to younger brother Gamble’s safety, but Dante makes it painless.

Teri Polo has almost nothing to do. Her limited screen time still drags.

The Hole should have been a lot better, but it’s still rather decent. And just beautifully directed.

Great Dick Miller cameo too.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; written by Mark L. Smith; director of photography, Theo van de Sande; edited by Marshall Harvey; music by Javier Navarrete; production designer, Brentan Harron; produced by Claudio Fäh, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak and Vicki Sotheran; released by Bold Films.

Starring Chris Massoglia (Dane Thompson), Haley Bennett (Julie Campbell), Nathan Gamble (Lucas Thompson), Bruce Dern (Carl) and Teri Polo (Susan).


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Piranha (1978, Joe Dante)

More than anything else, I think Pino Donaggio’s score sets Piranha apart. Initially, anyway. The film’s a very self-aware Roger Corman Jaws “homage,” but Donaggio’s score very quickly establishes it on firm ground. The score’s delicate, without any spoof-related cynicism (there’s no attempt to mimic the famous Jaws theme, Donaggio has some piranha attack music, but uses the score differently), and rather lovely in parts. With the score opening the door, Piranha‘s other singular elements come through.

Director Joe Dante and writer John Sayles maintain some of the Jaws mores, but quickly go their own way. The scale of Piranha is much smaller and it’s hard to believe how much time Dante and Sayles can get out of the story. There’s the pre-titles prologue (the biggest Jaws rip), but then Piranha immediately changes gears. The film’s got a constant sense of dread–something Dante does really well, especially for the scenes at the summer camp–and it’s difficult to notice the low budget aspects after a while, just because the film’s so ruthless in who the piranhas get. The scene at the summer camp is fantastic; the wholesale piranha attacks on the campers is startling. That scene alone puts Piranha on its own, in terms of cinema.

The film does have some playful elements, mostly at the beginning. There’s some good stop motion work from Phil Tippett; it doesn’t go anywhere and just serves to kill some running time, but it’s well done and a fine time passer. The rest of the film mostly gets its humor from Paul Bartel as the summer camp director. He’s a complete jackass and his scenes do provide a little relief.

It’s hard to say what’s more important for the film, Dante’s direction or Sayles’s script. The film looks so much like a Joe Dante picture–with Dick Miller, Kevin McCarthy and the stop motion tangent–he seems the easy answer. But Sayles doesn’t just bring a fine attention to turning the little scenes with throwaway dialogue into real scenes (I’m thinking most of the scenes with Melody Thomas Scott and Shannon Collins, but also the even shorter water skiing scene), his pacing also makes the film work. There’s a break in the action during the second act, when the piranha attacks cease for about ten minutes (in a ninety-some minute picture, ten is a lot). Sayles is able to turn the dread to eleven here, with the summer camp attack then realizing it. But it’s Dante who makes that attack so visceral and affecting.

It’s complicated.

The acting’s decent–Bradford Dillman’s a solid lead, Heather Menzies is fine as the private investigator (though it’s unclear why her boss, a good Richard Deacon, doesn’t trust her). McCarthy, Miller and Keenan Wynn are, no shock, the best. Thomas Scott and fellow camp counselor Belinda Balaski are both good.

I think I’ve seen Piranha before, but it’s been ten or eleven years and I barely remember it if I did. It’s a lot better than I thought it would be; it seems to be overlooked and under-appreciated, regarded as a trifle instead of a credible film. It’s certainly the latter.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; screenplay by John Sayles, based on a story by Richard Robinson and Sayles; director of photography, Jamie Anderson; edited by Dante and Mark Goldblatt; music by Pino Donaggio; produced by Jon Davison; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Bradford Dillman (Paul Grogan), Heather Menzies (Maggie McKeown), Kevin McCarthy (Dr. Robert Hoak), Keenan Wynn (Jack), Dick Miller (Buck Gardner), Barbara Steele (Dr. Mengers), Belinda Balaski (Betsy), Melody Thomas Scott (Laura Dickinson), Bruce Gordon (Colonel Waxman), Barry Brown (Trooper), Paul Bartel (Mr. Dumont), Shannon Collins (Suzie Grogan), Shawn Nelson (Whitney) and Richard Deacon (Earl Lyon).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | PIRANHA (1978) / PIRANHA (1995).