From Roald Dahl to Voldemort, from Coraline to Doctor Who, as much as kids like to be entertained, they also like to be scared.
Having entertained the younger generation with films such as Explorers and scared the pants off folks in what was essentially a comedy in Gremlins, Joe Dante is the perfect candidate to craft a horror film aimed at younger viewers.
Susan (Teri Polo) and her sons Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) move to Anywhere, USA.
Prepubescent Lucas is happy playing his videogames, but grumpy teen Dane skulks around, his mood only lifted by girl-next-door Julie (Haley Bennett).
One afternoon, Lucas finds a big, locked trapdoor in the basement. This being a horror film, he opens it, to reveal... a bottomless hole.
Nothing happens, until things start coming out... Mark L Smith’s excellent script features plenty of horror clichés but makes a virtue of them by either offering a clever justification, or reasoning that much of the film’s target audience won’t have come across them yet.
The result introduces a new generation to the horror classics by working in a few choice references.
A pinch of Ringu here, a touch of The Exorcist there... there’s even an Elm Street nod so subtle we might have imagined it.
The quality of that script extends to smart, convincing dialogue, which is wonderfully delivered by the actors.
Massoglia, Gamble and Polo are completely believable as a bickering, smart-mouthed-yet-affectionate family unit, and Bennett plays Julie just right – her character could have been flat in the initial stages, before her background is explored.
The visuals are equally on form, offering a distinctive old-school feel that adds to the creepiness, with only a few dodgy CGI moments letting things down.
The direction’s also excellent when it comes to building tension, with some interesting shocks – when was the last time you jumped at the lights coming on?
There’s some nice cinematography as well, especially in a few scenes filmed from above, as if the audience is looking down a hole onto the film.
A superior kid-friendly horror that will hook older viewers too – great script, great acting, great directing, great job.