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Reviews: ‘The Hole in the Ground,’ ‘The Cannibal Club,’ ‘Tuftland’

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Seána Kerslake in the movie “The Hole in the Ground.”
(Martin Maguir / A24)

‘The Hole in the Ground’

Like the recent horror favorites “The Babadook” and “Hereditary,” director Lee Cronin’s “The Hole in the Ground” exploits the common terrors of parenthood. Though it’s not quite in the same league as those movies, this is an impressive feature debut for a filmmaker with more in mind than just monsters and jump-scares.

Co-written by Cronin and Stephen Shields, “The Hole in the Ground” stars Seána Kerslake as Sarah O’Neill, mother to Chris (James Quinn Markey), a precocious boy who peppers his mom with questions about why they left his father and why they’re moving to a small Irish town in the middle of nowhere.

Not long after the O’Neills arrive, Chris’ nagging evolves into flagrant misbehavior. After a local eccentric warns Sarah that her son is “not him,” she suspects he’s been replaced by a changeling — perhaps sprung from the enormous sinkhole on their property.

The sinkhole doesn’t just give the film its title, it’s also a metaphor for Sarah fleeing an abusive husband and trying to raise a kid whose petulance makes every waking hour tense. Even if there wasn’t anything supernatural afoot, Sarah would be living a nightmare.

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Cronin and Shields have too much trouble deciding how literal they want their horror to be. Despite the strikingly shadowy visual design and Kerslake’s engaging performance, the last third of “The Hole in the Ground” just isn’t as challenging. Still, it’s always welcome to see a chiller that builds suspense from ideas and characters — and where the beasts from beyond are almost beside the point.

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‘The Hole in the Ground’

Rated: R, for some disturbing images.

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Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Playing: Starts March 1, Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood; also on VOD and DirecTV.

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‘The Cannibal Club’

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Tavinho Teixeira and Ana Luiza Rios in "The Cannibal Club."
(Uncork’d Entertainment)

Fans of Brazilian-style steakhouses may think twice about those succulent, hand-carved meat-skewers after they watch “The Cannibal Club,” a grisly Brazilian satire about ultra-rich folks who pay to watch the working-class have sex, before they slaughter and eat them, churrasco-style. Written and directed by the prolific and provocative Guto Parente, “The Cannibal Club” follows one jaded, depraved upper-class couple, frustrated by the realization that the even wealthier, more powerful people enjoy more privileges.

Parente keeps the film short and sour, stringing together a series of beautifully shot, giddily perverse set-pieces, in fancy houses, featuring characters who complain the modern world’s a moral sewer — right before they do another murder. Dryly funny and unsparingly acerbic, “The Cannibal Club” has one simple point to make about the hypocrisy of the aristocracy … and Parente makes it sharply.

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‘The Cannibal Club’

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In Portuguese with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Playing: Starts March 1, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; available on VOD, March 5.

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‘Tuftland’

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Veera W. Vilo in the movie "Tuftland."
(Subliminal Films)

The relatable yearning to escape the pressures of modern life takes a grim turn in “Tuftland,” a Finnish thriller doubling as a barbed social commentary. Veera W. Vilo gives a powerful performance as Irina, a lovelorn college student, who’s shocked to learn that her summer internship at a rural textile plant actually binds her to a reactionary cult, where women bow to the will of the resident male authority figures — all of whom are physically repellant and animalistic.

Writer-director Roope Olenius (adapting a Neea Viitamäki play) struggles at times to maintain a consistent tone with a film which veers sharply between absurdist comedy and near-horror. So most often, “Tuftland” defaults to grotesquerie, which nearly always works. Most everything in this film is a wild exaggeration, mocking patriarchal systems by making them look, if nothing else, stomach-turningly gross.

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‘Tuftland’

In Finnish with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Playing: Starts March 1, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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‘Devil’s Path’

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Stephen Twardokus in the movie "Devil's Path."
(Breaking Glass Pictures)

A daring cross between a frank gay drama and a wilderness chase picture, “Devil’s Path” has a good enough premise — and a sharp enough twist — to mitigate some of its more glaring flaws. Writer-director Matthew Montgomery and his co-writer Stephen Twardokus have found fruitful dramatic ground between the nervous excitement of cruising and the danger of venturing deep into the woods.

Twardokus plays the lead, Noah, who approaches Patrick (JD Scalzo) on a hiking trail notorious as a pick-up spot. Ignoring a ranger’s warnings about a possible gay-targeting serial killer on the loose, they veer off the main path — and are almost immediately chased by two strangers.

Over-written dialogue and some stiff acting weigh “Devil’s Path” down, especially in the early going. But the action sequences are quite good, deriving nervous energy from the inherent risk of any illicit sexual encounter: that being in the wrong place with the wrong person could prove fatal.

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‘Devil’s Path’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: Starts March 1, Laemmle, Glendale; available on VOD, March 5

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‘2050’

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Dean Cain in the movie "2050."
(Anerke)

Given the nuanced ethical dilemmas raised by so-called “sexbots,” it’s a shame that director Princeton Holt’s ripped-from-the-headlines science-fiction dramedy “2050” is so broad and clumsy. To their credit, Holt and his co-writer Brian Ackley have created a realistic near-future world on a budget — by just slightly upgrading the tech in our own. But aside from a few decadent, Kubrickian tableaus, too much of this movie consists of choppy dialogue about human needs and responsibilities.

Even the central plot-line — about a couple torn apart by the existence of lifelike android sex toys and robot brothels — never develops any weight. The story just generates one over-intellectualized argument after another. “2050” has a meaningful subject, but is so dialogue-heavy and incident-light that almost the entire film feels like a pitch for the movie Holt didn’t make.

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‘2050’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Starts March 1, AMC Atlantic Times Square 14

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‘Virginia Minnesota’

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Aurora Perrineau in the movie "Virginia Minnesota."
(Indican Pictures)

For every good idea in writer-director Daniel Stine’s debut feature “Virginia Minnesota,” there are two or three that fall disappointingly flat. Winning lead performances and some uniquely quirky touches keep this dramedy watchable from start to finish, but an over-reliance on indie film clichés — from the plucky folk-pop soundtrack to the generic “dredging up the past” plot — add up to squandered potential.

Rachel Hendrix and Aurora Perrineau are very good as Lyle and Addison, frenemies who met in a group home, and are driving back together for a reading of their former headmistress’s will. Their road trip through various Minnesota tourist traps features moments of real tenderness and originality — the latter mostly involving Lyle’s Siri-like, GPS-enabled talking suitcase.

But “Virginia Minnesota” ultimately becomes another exhaustingly earnest and unnecessarily withholding drama, where characters carefully parcel out pieces of their history over the course of about 90 minutes, such that the story really only starts to kick in right before the credits roll.

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‘Virginia Minnesota’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

Playing: Starts March 1, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

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