April 15, 2022 The Cellar (Movie Review)
There may be no place like home, but what happens when your home is more place than you thought? The Cellar, from Writer/Director Brendan Muldowney (Savage 2009, Love Eternal 2013), explores that deep-seated childhood fear of the monster in the basement and takes it to the next level. Following its premiere at SXSW, Shudder snapped up exclusive streaming rights for this Ireland-set Horror from RJLE Films.
Available on Shudder starting April 15, 2022, The Cellar is based on Muldowney’s chilling, award-winning 2004 short The Ten Steps, and sees star Elisha Cuthbert’s (House of Wax 2005, 24 series) return to Horror. The film also stars Eoin Macken (The Forest 2016, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter 2017), Abby Fitz (Irish Crime 2021, Redemption Mini-series), and Dylan Fitzmaurice-Brady (Kin series) as members of a family who find themselves moving into a mysterious country home that contains much more than they bargained for.
Advertising executives Keira Woods (Cuthbert) and her husband Brian (Macken) find themselves struggling to settle into their new home in the Irish countryside. Their teenage daughter, Ellie (Fitz), having been upended from her life in the city, especially thrashes against this change. One night when watching her rambunctious little brother Steven (Fitzmaurice-Brady), the power goes out, and Ellie must venture into the home’s cellar, but disappears without a trace. While the police think that Ellie is nothing more than a runaway, Keira becomes swept up in finding her daughter at any cost.
The haunted house is a tried-and-true Horror trope that plays on our deepest fears of the dark and the unknown. It’s been done so many times because it works. When done well, of course. The Cellar kicks off strong as Keira searches the house for clues to her daughter’s disappearance. She discovers Hebrew “glyphs” and indecipherable equations hidden in the house’s corners. Numbers play a major role in The Cellar, a promising premise rarely seen in Horror. The film’s first half contains some genuinely creepy sequences and twists, emphasized by the dreary, minimalistic set design and cinematography. However, the more the mystery unravels, the less there is to fear. What starts off as a promising twist on an old trope ends up too massive for its own good.
There are times when The Cellar is desperate to stretch to its 94-minute runtime. Far too many scenes feel repetitive. The amount of times we see Keira looking up images on her computer as her husband ignores her is almost funny. Meanwhile, characters who just pop in late into the story serve no purpose other than to conveniently lay down some expository dialogue, while the Woods family hardly feels connected to one another. All this leaves viewers with an unfortunate lack of tension leading up to its bizarre climax. The mystery is drawn out at the start but comes apart quickly as its ideas are over-explained. With so much “what,” the film loses sight of the “why.” By the time we learn all about the ancient evil inside the titular cellar, the story is so overblown that the characters feel more like pawns than people whose plight we are invested in.
Overall, The Cellar is a good short film pushed beyond its limits that unfortunately front-loads all of its best scares. Despite having all of the ingredients for a solid Horror, the film comes out flavorless. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives The Cellar 2.5 out of 5 stars.