Note: Contains major spoilers for The Hole in the Ground and its ending
One of the year's stand-out horrors, The Hole in the Ground is now terrifying audiences in cinemas after debuting at Sundance in January.
The horror movie centres on single mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake) and her son Chris (James Quinn Markey) who move to a secluded home in a rural Irish town. Shortly afterwards, Chris goes missing in the forest behind their home, which happens to include a massive sinkhole.
Fortunately he returns but Sarah becomes increasingly convinced that the boy who came back is NOT her son. Is she right? We're about to head into some massive spoilers with the help of writer/director Lee Cronin and star Seána Kerslake.
Seriously: don't read on after the trailer if you don't want to be spoiled.
The short answer is that yes, Sarah is right and the Chris that returned from the forest is definitely not her son. She suspects as much from the get-go and sets up cameras to keep an eye on Chris, despite being told by the doctor that there's nothing wrong with him.
There's someone else in town called Noreen Brady (Kati Outinen) who doesn't believe Chris is Sarah's son either. The only problem for Sarah is that Noreen killed her own son when she became convinced he was an imposter, so she's not exactly a reliable source for what's happened to her son.
Confirmation soon comes for Sarah when she tries to play the game she always does with Chris (they pull a face after counting to three) and he doesn't respond how he should. So Sarah secretly drugs him, which comes in handy as 'Chris' attacks her but passes out just in time to let Sarah escape.
She sets up a mirror in front of 'Chris' and the reflection is of a monster, leading Sarah to head into the forest to investigate the sinkhole, which is where she thinks the real Chris is.
Sure enough, after entering the sinkhole, Sarah discovers a still-alive Chris under the ground with a whole host of corpses around him, including that of Noreen's son. Sarah encounters the monsters, too, which have the ability to mimic a human's appearance by merely touching them, but she manages to escape with Chris.
We don't learn too much about what the monsters are or how long they've been there – which is Cronin's intention, especially as the monsters are "very personal to Sarah and Sarah’s journey".
"What I like to do with folklore and some of the Irish myth that’s in the story is just to take little shavings of it and season as I wish. I never wanted to define necessarily what the monsters are, what the monsters’ force is in the film, I just wanted it to be there and I never wanted there to be rules," he told Digital Spy.
"There is certain things like I take a little bit from changeling mythology and some other Irish myths about certain territories and areas of lands that shouldn’t be stepped on otherwise you might bring a curse upon you, it was kind of leaning into that as well."
For Kerslake, she totally understands why Sarah did the unthinkable and drugged what could well have turned out to be her own son.
"If that’s not the case [that he's not Chris], she is not a fit mother. For me, when I was shooting it, I didn’t even see that point of view. Well, I did, but all her actions, she feels they’re very measured and the right thing to do at the time. She knows it’s not her son, she knows," she explained.
Having escaped from the sinkhole, Sarah returns to her home to burn it down with the fake Chris still inside.
We catch up with them in their new home a little later, but it's clear that the experience has had an effect on Sarah. She's placed mirrors all over the rooms and takes photos of Chris to continually make sure that she rescued her real son and not a monster.
Cronin notes that there was never really the temptation to put a last-minute twist in the ending and show that either Sarah or Chris weren't the real version, but noted that there's "some ambiguity there".
"I think Sarah’s journey is complete in terms of she has faced darkness, she has faced monsters and she’s come through the other side," he continued, with Kerslake adding: "There’s doubt. She’s living with cameras and mirrors and there’s still that clench in your belly that things aren’t… you can’t just breathe a sigh of relief."
That unease is "quite real", according to Cronin, citing that if you injured your knee when you were younger, you still carry that scar when you grow up which is "part of being human". But ending on a lighter note was important for him.
"I wish I could remember where I read this, it was a few years ago and it was a filmmaker or writer who said that even when you’re writing the darkest stories, look for the lightest way out. I agree with that because you’ve taken people through the mincer, but you also need to give them a little bit of catharsis and release at the end," he outlined.
"It’s not a written rule to say it’s right or wrong, but for this story because I wanted Sarah to be this character who had a heroic mantle to sit alongside great female heroes on screen, in her own small unique way, it was important that she left in a position of strength and control.
"Even if that control seems still a little misguided or filled with doubt, she still has coping mechanisms and I think that’s how we operate as humans."
The Hole in the Ground is now available to watch on Netflix.