DIR/WRI: Viko Nikci • PRO: David Collins, Viko Nikci, John Wallace • DOP: Robert Flood • ED: Viko Nikci • DES: Mark Kelly • MUSIC: Ray Harman • CAST: Karen Hassan, Catherine Walker, Una Carroll
Writer-director Viko Nikci weaves together a fragmented narrative in Cellar Door that is only fully understood near the end of the film. The film follows Aidie (Karen Hassan), who appears lost and/or trapped in time as she struggles with memories of her pregnancy and searches for her baby. The audience is placed in Aidie’s shoes, wading through her key memories as she continuously cycles through them in search of an answer.
The film begins with a fully-clothed and submerged Aidie awakening in a bath full of water visibly confused. As she takes in her surroundings and her condition she asks herself “what’s the last thing you remember?”, setting the tone for what is to follow. The audience is then taken through Aidie’s conversation with her ailing mother, a classroom in which she is the teacher, a dance with her lover which morphs into her pregnant and alone in a Church, and ultimately in an institution with other unwed mothers. The timeline for these events is shaky, and they repeat over and over, with subtle differences as Aidie tries to make sense of them, sometimes guided by other versions of herself.
While these scenes do become repetitious in places, they bleed into one another seamlessly thanks to the strong cinematography, score and editing. These allow the audience to sometimes feel that they are gently falling between or sliding into memories, and other times feel a sense of entrapment and panic as Aidie fights for a resolution.
Cellar Door is difficult to pin down, not only in terms of its narrative but in its elusion of categorisation. There are moments when one might question if supernatural elements are at play and it feels like a horror, and others that resemble a drama. This uncertainty, however, is deliberately carried across the film so that it can perhaps best be described as a puzzle.
The film requires commitment on the part of the audience to make sense of the pieces as they come, and may suffer from some unnecessary repetition or elongation at times, but when its resolution arrives, making sense of what has come before it, it is thoughtful and poignant. Cellar Door tackles the difficult topic of Irish institutional abuse, drawing connections in a thoughtful way and forcing the audience to think throughout.