Laura Cannon steps into The Cellar.
Written and directed by Brendan Muldowney, The Cellar, is a fun time but won’t cause anyone to run from the cinema in terror. What it fails to conjure in scares, it makes up in atmosphere and skillfully building a feeling of dread and despair.
The Cellar is the story of Keira Woods, a mother searching for her daughter after she disappears on the first night in their new home. Keira (Elisha Cuthbert) and her husband Brian (Eoin Macken) have just moved their family to a new country mansion they acquired for a discount at an auction. The couple owns an advertising agency, which is launching a new campaign. Because of this, they leave their two children, Ellie (Abby Fitz) and Steven (Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady), alone on the first night in this sprawling, unfamiliar house as they attend a meeting in town. As soon as they leave, the power goes out and Ellie must search the cellar to find the fuse box. Afraid to go down, Keira stays on the phone with her while she walks the dark stairs counting each one. But instead of reaching the bottom and letting her mom know everything is fine, Ellie just keeps counting. Her mother rushes home to find her daughter missing. The house holds a dark secret none of them could imagine.
The film boast strong performances from Cuthbert and Abby Fitz. Cuthbert is no stranger to horror, having starred in House of Wax (2005) but she is most known for her comedy roles. Her performance as a devastated mother is believably understated. Focusing on her role, the narrative plays into the idea that it is the mother who is more in tune with the family. The father is not really a part of what’s going on. Placed outside of the home, he leaves to keep the business running, while the mother continues to search for their missing daughter. On screen for most of the film, you never tire of watching Cuthbert. This film falls into certain generic horror tropes, however, she makes them work and is delightful to watch.
Abby Fitz is a sulky teenager, unhappy about the move and leaving her friends behind in the city. At the beginning of the film, she encompasses everything that you expect from a typical angry teen. But when the power goes out and she must descend the dark steps of the cellar, she gives a terrifying performance.
The rest of the cast play their roles well, but the script doesn’t give them as many moments to shine. As Keira begins to unravel the mystery of the house, she must consult Dr. Fournet, a mathematician from a nearby college. The story of how he became a mathematical genius is imaginative and gives his character an oddness that is fun to watch.
The story of a creepy old country mansion is a well-known horror trope. The Cellar brings an enjoyable twist into the story by incorporating mathematics and demon worship. Science and religion have a long history of being at odds with each other. This film doesn’t do anything to help that argument as maths is used as a source of evil. It moves the story from being an evil house as in The Haunting (1963, 1999) or Burnt Offerings (1976) to something else. While fun and entertaining The Cellar doesn’t offer a lot of surprises. The story hits key elements such as a great location, flickering lights, a looming sense of dread, and a mystery to unravel and does so in a very competent manner. On the flip side, shoehorning in a plot point about cyberbullying and fake online personas doesn’t fit and comes off false.
Alongside the performances, the film shines in its design elements. With art direction by John Hand and set decoration by Dara Hand, the house is everything you could hope for in a creepy old mansion. The “other world” has an ashy look of desolation and despair.
While you won’t find a ton of surprises in The Cellar, it is well worth a watch. It throws in enough jump scares and creepiness to keep you on edge without giving anyone nightmares. Avid horror fans might find it too tame and predictable. But there is no blood or gore so those who are squeamish can have fun. The horror comes from the suspense and the tension built by the performances throughout the film. Fans of The Woman in Black (2012) would easily find this enjoyable. Incorporating devil worship, the afterlife, and the invasion of the home by unknown forces, The Cellar plays on well-known fears. If you like your horror light with a side of mystery, then this is the film for you.
The Cellar is in cinemas from 25th March 2022.