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By Phil Hall | December 8, 2004

Before she donned blue body paint and battled Saxons in “King Arthur” (Antoine Fuqua, 2004), fought against pirates in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” (Gore Verbinski, 2003), and played futbol in the British film “Bend It Like Beckham” (Gurinder Chadha, 2002), Keira Knightley was the hottest girl at a British private school in the suspense film “The Hole” (Nick Hamm, 2001). Being the alluring beauty might have won the hearts of her companions in “King Arthur” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”, thereby ensuring her character’s survival, but in “The Hole,” good looks and a great body turn out to be less of a blessing. Adapted from Guy Burt’s novel “After the Hole,” Hamm’s film centers on Elizabeth Dunn (Thora Birch), Mike Steel (Desmond Harrington), Martyn Taylor (Daniel Brocklebank), and Frankie Smith (Knightley), four boarding school kids who skip out on a field trip to have a weekend of fun in an old bomb shelter. The mystery pertains to what exactly happened during the time they were underground.

The film starts with a visibly confused Elizabeth stumbling to her ominously empty school, dialing the police from a pay phone, and screaming into the receiver. The next time we see her, she is talking to psychiatrist Philippa Horwood (Embeth Davidtz) about what she and her classmates were doing in a hole in the forest floor. As Hamm’s film later reveals, there are two versions of what occurred and why Elizabeth is the lone survivor. She is portrayed pleasantly in the first account and disagreeably in the second. With many extended flashback sequences, it’s difficult keeping track of “the truth” and even more challenging to figure out the significance of how the two versions differ. Aside from Elizabeth’s being an unpopular, shy, love-struck girl in the first story and a popular, manipulative, obsessed chick in the second, there isn’t much to analyze. It’s as though Hamm would rather the viewer focus on Elizabeth’s motivations and psychological instabilities over other plot details. Hamm has his preference and in the end we know the explanation for Elizabeth’s behavior, but there are still loose narrative ends that require fastening.

“The Hole” is a mediocre contribution to the mystery/suspense genre; nonetheless it efficaciously secures our attention and compassion for the characters. Keira Knightley is especially deserving of our sympathy. She flashes the camera, allows two teenaged boys to assault her with kisses, and is locked underground with a jealous coquette. If you’re curious to know if Knightley’s acting range transcends pouting and demonstrating her fighting capabilities, Hamm’s film will likely be a wasted hour and forty minutes of your time. On the other hand, if you couldn’t care less about the plot and will watch Knightley do anything, like baring her breasts, give “The Hole” a try—but be prepared to do plenty of fast-forwarding.

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