John Finbarr McGarr goes beyond the Cellar Door, which screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival.
Cellar Door is Viko Nikci’s second feature film as a writer (his debut being 2015’s Fading Away) and his first as a director. The film follows a young woman, Aidie, played by Karen Hassan, who is trying to recall the last thing she remembers and soon realises that her child is missing.
Cellar Door is both an interesting and frustrating film simultaneously. Nearly every compliment that can be given to this film can also be seen as a flaw, depending on the person. For one, it lacks the traditional narrative of most films, instead opting for what seems like a directionless montage of disjointed scenes. Simply describing it wouldn’t do it justice as it’s more akin to an experience than a story.
The audience is learning information at the same time as the protagonist is, allowing for one to get into the same state of confusion as the protagonist. The cinematography also plays an important role in this confusion; the majority of scenes are filmed with a handheld camera, giving a sense of disorientation and instability. Cellar Door also lacks any establishing shots, being filmed in either close-up or medium shots. This is crucial, as it makes the whole film feel entrapping and claustrophobic.
However, what makes it frustrating is when watching it (for the first time); one has no idea what is going on. It is also not very clear what is happening to the protagonist, as Nikci plays his cards very close to his chest. Because of this, everyone watching this film would each have their own individual theories as to what the true nature of the film is.
But the audience is not supposed to understand what is being presented on the screen, as stated by producer David Collins in a Q&A after the screening of the film at Cork Film Festival, who also went on to say how much of a subjective experience the film is. Depending on who you are, you may find the lack of tangible answers intriguing or off-putting.
Easily the best aspect about Cellar Door is the editing. Most scenes bleed into the next seamlessly in a dream-like flow. As a result, the film never feels jarring or disruptive, despite the drastic change in setting that can occur at any moment. These smooth transitions are what helps the film succeed; the protagonist hops from location to location so frequently that these transitions help ease the audience to the next scene.
The film borrows some elements from horror films, and I would consider this the least successful part of it. There are multiple jump scares where a character screams or makes a loud noise after a prolonged silence, which happens so often that you could predict when the next one is about to happen.
Regardless, Cellar Door is a great film with interesting cinematography, a solid performance by Karen Hassan and some fantastic editing. It is clear that Nikci and Hassan have put a lot of work and research into the creation of this film, allowing it to get better the more you think about it. While it may not be for everyone, I would recommend this to anyone interested in seeing something weird, different and unique, as it is an intense experience that won’t ever be replicated.
Cellar Door screened on Sunday, 11th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)