I have a very strong aversion to basements or cellars. Look at any movie or series with a plot point revolving around a room under a house and it won’t end well for the poor soul who ventures down there. Based on my fear of what might be lurking under the house, any movie that features a dark cellar is almost guaranteed to creep me out.
Filmed on location in Roscommon, Ireland, writer/director Brendan Muldowney’s (Savage, Love Eternal) latest film, The Cellar, is having its World Premiere at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, before heading to Shudder in April from RLJE Films. The story focuses on an old house with a gloomy cellar where people tend to disappear.
In The Cellar, Elisha Cuthbert (House of Wax) gives a captivating performance as Keira Woods, a woman who moves her family into a massive old house in Ireland. Keira and her husband, Brian (Eoin Macken), run an ad agency and are called away to a meeting the night they move into the house, leaving their moody teenage daughter, Ellie (Abby Fitz), to babysit for her younger brother Steven (Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady). Ellie isn’t just upset about moving away from her friends, she dislikes the house. When the power goes out, she’s forced to confront her fear of the dark when she has to go down into the cellar alone to find the fuse box. On the phone with her mother, who convinces Ellie to count the stairs to ease her anxiety, she slowly descends into the darkness of the cellar and then vanishes.
Keira and Brian frantically contact the local police, who search the house and the grounds, but there is no sign of Ellie anywhere. Keira notices symbols carved above each doorway in the house and then finds what appears to be a mathematical equation at the bottom of the cellar stairs. After doing some research online, Keira discovers their new home was once owned by a famous physicist, who mysteriously disappeared with his entire family, except his daughter, who was somehow left behind. Keira also realizes the symbols in the house spell the word Leviathan.
When Keira seeks out a genius mathematician at the local university to analyze the symbols and equation from the house, the story becomes a little convoluted, but there’s still a lot to like about The Cellar for fans of somber, atmospheric thrillers which take place in spooky old mansions. Portions of the story could be compared to the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, but the most obvious comparison is to The Amityville Horror. There is one scene in particular of Brian in the cellar with a sledgehammer, but instead of Brian being possessed by an evil force, he doesn’t buy in to the wild mathematical theories Keira believes are the key to finding Ellie.
While the film falters briefly in its storytelling in the final act, a strong, determined performance from Cuthbert, some notable scares, and the overwhelming feeling of dread the film expertly crafts, make The Cellar an enjoyable, spooky experience.
After its World Premiere at SXSW, RLJE Films will release The Cellar in theaters and on Shudder on April 15th.
Movie Score: 3.5/5