The Hole In The Ground: Interview with director Lee Cronin and actress Seána Kerslake

2nd March 2019

Folklore tales have been pre-occupying the horror genre since celluloid’s humble beginnings, dating all the way back to the 1922 with German horror movie Nosferatu based on Carpathian vampire peasant tales. Then all through to 60s with Japenese cinema's fasciantion with folk ghost stories to the 70s British horror mysteries such as the The Wicker Man to more recent outputs like the deadly effects of a gypsy curse in the noughties in Drag Me To Hell or to a New England witch tals in the stunning The Witch from four years back. Much like these, is the latest horror release of The Hole In The Ground by director Lee Cronin taking on the Irish folklore of fairies and changelings. Starring Seána Kerslake as a young doting mother who moves to a remote rural Irish town with her young boy Chris (James Quinn Markey) to escape a troubled past, only for things to take a sinister twist when Chris starts to appear different.

Candid Magazine had the opportunity to interview Cronin and Kerslake earlier this week to tell us more about their film.

The Hole In The Ground, Candid Magazine
James Quinn Markey and Seána Kerslake in The Hole in the Ground.

Why does folklore pre-occupy the horror genre so much?

Lee Cronin: I think it’s always good to have some source material when facing the blank page. When you have an idea and you are looking for something otherworldly to bring into it. I think specifically with this, what I like about Irish folklore, they are slightly undefined stories in a way, they are more like small nuggets of information rather than complete tales. So, you can take one of them and try and use it however you want. In Ireland, probably the same as here, the tale alters and changes from town to town, so there is a quality of word-of-mouth to it, so you don’t have to be slavish to any rules. You can take some of the feeling and inspiration from various ones. 

And then more often than not, they usually involve children? 

LC:You’re the mother in the story, why do you think that is? (turns to Seana) 

Seána Kerslake: Children are naturally freaky… (laughs)… I think it’s that innocence and then that innocence taking on this demonic or destructive power and then balancing it with the whole ‘butter wouldn’t melt’. I think that can be quite scary. Also like in this film with the boy gaining all this otherworldly strength, it’s quite a scary prospect. 

LC: Also, I think for a lot of people their children, comprise a chunk of their legacy. The idea of that legacy being damaged before its fully formed. I am bringing it a really dark place now…

Stil from The Hole in the Ground.

How is it filming with a children on a horror film? 

SK: You have to be very conscious after a while, like when you are dragging a child across the floor or burying him in muck. I had to remember “Oh yes… that’s a person underneath there, let alone a child” … like being mindful not to get dirt in his eyes. He was a pro though, such a good sport, that there was never complaint out of him… We almost had to remember he (Markey) was child and we had to be mindful of him. But Lee had a certain way with him, they had an understanding between them.

LC: Yes, we had our little shorthand to find the spaces he needed to be in. The challenge for him and for me in creating this character, like the moments when he is a regular kid and then when he is slightly different kid, if we went too far down one route, it might not work. Even at the end, we didn’t really push into this dramatic creepy place…. Well actually that’s not true, there is a moment when we do go there… But it’s kind of, very subtle…. one tick on the clock to the right… So that required him to deliver a performance of subtly. If he instantly seemed quite so different, Sarah’s (Seana Kerslake) alarm bells would have gone off instantly and the story would end. So, it kind of had to be this slow operation.

SK: Well I need to add that he (Markey) had great fun too. Like getting to throw me across rooms and bury my head in the soil. He did get some kicks out of it. 

What are the tricks to create tension and build-up throughout?

LC: A lot of it was planned in the screenplay. In the planning of the story. From a technical point of view, we thought a lot about how the story would evolve visually. What the pace might be, how we use the camera. The camera moves a lot but not in a dramatic way. It’s kind of moving in a creeping way, there is an unnerve, it occupies a presence in the space and I think performance wise with Seana, it was about having reminders all the time.  Reminding you of how dreadful the situation, of the past and what it meant in the present with what she was facing with her kid.

SK: A lot of the time was a bit like holding your breath. Like the sensation of suffocating, the stifling of your voice, she could never really shout out. That was the kind of constant feeling in your stomach and in your chest… So, we were conscious of when to let that relax and when to tense up… When I think about it now, when I put myself back in the position when we were filming, its actually quite horrible thinking about it, being like that for six weeks of your life.  That kind of level of putting a lid on a pot and keeping it bubbling away and then simmering it down… it keeps the tension.

Director Lee Cronin
Director Lee Cronin.

It is noticeable that Seana never over-reacts. The performance is very understated.

LC: It’s a decision we made together, as a character that Seana wouldn’t scream in the film, because perhaps she did the screaming in her past and it didn’t get her anywhere. So, the lid on a pot is a good analogy, as she does break but still seems to hold it together publicly

SK: She was conveying a very classic parent thing to do, even if everything is falling apart you trying to keep it together for your children. Until she has completed what she had to do and saw things through, then she can have her relief, have a cry or whatever. She can’t stop and feel sorry for herself.

Is the underlying premise of the story, the innate fear parents have of losing child?

SK: Yes, I think so for me.

LC: Or losing control of your child?

Or them leaving you?

SK: For me, it is a about fear of losing a child. But not in the sense of the whole: children growing up and wanting to be in the world independently and not with you anymore but more the actual fear of losing your child, of it dissapearing.

The Hole In The Ground is out now


Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.

For more Film & Entertainment features here.


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