Here are the quick movie reviews for The Hole in the Ground & Peterloo.
The Hole in the Ground
The Hole in the Ground is based on one single idea: no, not the breathtaking crater in the middle of some spooky woods, which gives this Irish horror film its title. Rather, it’s about a young boy (James Quinn Markey) who starts to act creepy one day, causing extreme paranoia within his mother, Sarah (Seána Kerslake). One could even call the title a misdirection were it not for the film’s third act that finally makes a connection between these two wildly different elements, but by that point my cryptic hopes had left. This is a story that misjudges toward the familiar instead of embracing strangeness, its freaky kid slowly becoming the distraction instead of giving you what you want, more time with the actual hole in the ground.
Seána Kerslake & James Quinn Markey in The Hole in the Ground
The Hole in the Ground delivers multiple memorable images — the bottomless pit, a child’s hand warped and extended in creepy imitation of the spiders that once terrified him. But the visuals serve an emotional world that feels false. Horror films can elicit terror by reminding its viewers of frustrations they ignore in normal life. But Sarah simply approaches every scene with the same kindly tolerance. Co-writer-director, Lee Cronin, perhaps hoped to ingratiate his characters to the audience by presenting them as immaculate. But Sarah’s maternal love is too perfect, in the manner of a deity rather than a woman. Though Seána Kerslake provides a tangible emotional arc and an overall solid performance, she’s still in a film where the central horror is the otherworldly absence of personality. The intended fear is undermined by the presence of a mother and son whose flawlessness is itself unnerving on its own. Somewhere in this story, Cronin and his co-writer Stephen Shields are picking at how kids change before their parents’ eyes. While that dose not come to fruition, you do get a sense of the terror of being stuck with someone you do not know, and the nightmarish helplessness of people not believing you. The thing is, it’s something that’s all too familiar.
Mike Leigh’s fascinating, epic Peterloo is for most of its runtime a riot of verbal eloquence. As even one of its characters, Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear), takes “Orator” as an honorific title, but his rhetorical gifts hardly set him apart. High-flown phrases pour from the mouths of activists at meetings, judges on the bench and politicians in the halls of Parliament. Sonorous syllables drip from the mouths of government ministers, military officers and property owners in private consultations. Radicals rouse the mobs with vivid images of oppression and fiery exhortations to revolt. Every so often, someone will remark that the time for talk is past, that what is needed now is action. But part of the argument of this at times brilliant and demanding film is that words are deeds, that language matters. Language is a weapon in the arsenals of power and resistance alike, and if you listen closely to the motely idioms and accents that fill this film, you can hear the currents of history moving through it all.
Peterloo is constructed around a real-life event: the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which military forces on horseback attempted to shut down a peaceful assembly of tens of thousands of people who hoped to hear famed orator Henry Hunt speak about voting reform. But the assembly’s events — both shocking and brutal — take up only a small part of the film’s two hour thirty-three minute runtime; Leigh is more interested in what lead to it, and in contrasting the lives of families with that of the upper-class voices of the government and military. Yet you’re not too likely to recognize any of the actors in Peterloo; Mike Leigh has assembled a cast of weathered, lived-in faces who lend a documentary realness to this story of the working-class Manchester in the early 19th century. It’s not just a matter of accuracy, but about immense respect. The production and costume designers (Suzie Davies and Jacqueline Durran) and cinematographer, Dick Pope, create a plausible, breathing picture of England in 1819, and Leigh’s screenplay takes pains to capture the texture of the time. Surely this is as close as we can hope to come to experiencing what people saw and how they spoke in various corners of the time.
Like many great works of history, Peterloo has a point of view. Leigh’s sympathies lie with one particular family. One that features a Battle of Waterloo bugler named Joseph (David Moorst), but its a majority of the sympathy that lands on Joseph’s parents, Nellie (Maxine Peake) and Joshua (Pearce Quigley), whose suffering seems to lie beyond the reach of any political rhetoric. The way they are portrayed edges close to sentimentality, but the honest sympathy the film extends them is the element that gives the wilder tableau its clarity and force. The concerns and causes that for most everyone else provide occasions for speechmaking are, for this family, a matter of life and death. It’s as this film progresses that its vivid power builds to the massacre. The overwhelming simplicity and severity in this historical epic comes with force, grit and above all a sense of purpose; a sense that the story Leigh has to tell is important and real, and that it needs to be heard right now. But when the massacre arrives, everything is put into place. With each character carrying a spark of individuality throughout every second of the runtime leading up to it, when we see some of their lives taken, a flood of emotions takes over the screen. Displaying every word, every voice and every face is something to remember.