Before she was engaging in who-can-wear-more-mascara contests with Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley was trapped in a bunker with Thora Birch and two guys for 18 days. I expected this to be a film about four teens trapped in an underground bunker trying to survive as days turn into weeks (two and a half to be exact), but that really isn't what The Hole is all about. That fact becomes obvious in the opening scene, as we watch a haggard survivor emerge and shuffle her way back to safety. Once she begins telling her story, I thought the rest of the movie would just be one big flashback leading us back to the present - wrong again. The plot to this film is much more dark and insidious as all that - and, while it's not problem-free, I think the film is all the better for it. This is very much a psychological thriller which almost succeeds magnificently - almost. And, as unlikely as it may sound, the story plays off the kinds of emotions all of us have experienced - to some degree - at some point in our lives. Stripped down to the very bone, what you have here is a love story.
So here are your choices: go along on a boring school field trip, spend a tedious weekend at home, or sneak away to an underground bunker to party with Keira Knightley and Thora Birch for three days. I'm a claustrophobic non-rebel, but I would be totally down (pun intended) with hunkering in the bunker. It certainly seemed like a good idea to Liz Dunn (Birch) because it would give her a chance to spend some quality time with the suddenly available apple of her eye, Mike Steel (Desmond Harrington). As she eventually tells the psychologist assigned to her (Embeth Davitz), her friend Martyn (Daniel Brocklebank) - one of those unethical brainiacs who can make anything happen - arranged the whole thing, after Mike, Frankie (Knightley), and Geoff (Laurence Fox) solicited his help in getting away for the weekend without either the school or their parents knowing about it. The plan was a smashing success - except for the fact that Martyn never showed up to unlock the door and let them out. Clearly, Martyn is the guilty party.
But wait a minute - it's not as simple as all that. Martyn insists that he had nothing to do with any of it, and through him a much different version of events emerges, one that significantly redefines the characters of Liz and Frankie. Whatever your suspicions, you as the viewer don't really know who or what to believe, especially since you have yet to be told exactly what happened to Mike, Frankie, and Geoff (in fact, I have a little problem with the fact that some of the initial implications are misleading and leave you asking obvious questions you later find out you needn't have asked). Even after it becomes obvious that one character in particular is not telling the whole story, the sense of mystery remains until the end, when the fates of all are finally revealed. There's just something about the ending that left me unsatisfied, though - not in terms of everything that took place in the bunker (although one key event was rather obviously foreshadowed early on), but definitely in the way things play out above ground. That is why, as much as I want to give The Hole five stars in recognition of its creative storytelling prowess and bevy of strong performances, I just can't do it. It's most unfortunate because I really do love this movie.
I do not like the American DVD cover featuring the close-up of Keira Knightley, though. For one thing, she doesn't look anything like this in the movie, but more importantly, this movie is really all about Thora Birch. Knightley's good, but it is the commanding presence of Birch that largely defines the film as a whole. With a less capable actress in the lead role, The Hole could have come off as laughably bad. A subtle facial expression can oftentimes say more than a drawn-out soliloquy, and Birch is unarguably a complete actress. She can be the girl next door and, at the same time, reveal traces of a hidden dark side - and that makes her not only mysteriously seductive but sexy as hell to those of us who like a little bit of evil in our girls.