Do you know what’s scarier than creepy old houses? Cellars of creepy old houses. Horror has no shortage of haunted house movies. And plenty of bad things in horror movies happen in dank cellars. Don’t Breathe. The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring. There’s even scary movies with ‘cellar’ or ‘basement’ right in the title. The Basement. Don’t Go in the Basement. Now a new Shudder original release looks to wring new scars out of old tropes. Though it promises to mix haunted house creaks with some demonic lore, The Cellar hasn’t scared up much of an impression. But it does mark the return of Elisha Cuthbert to the genre.
In what seems like an offer too good to be true, Keira Woods and her husband, Brian, buy a sprawling, fully furnished home in the Irish countryside for next to nothing. Only Keira’s moody teen daughter, Ellie, is unimpressed with the old house. When the parents leave Ellie to babysit her younger brother, a power outage forces into the house’s old cellar, where she inexplicably disappears. As Keira desperately searches for her missing daughter, she uncovers her new home’s dark history.
The Cellar Lacks the Scares to Compensate for Lackluster Story
Straight out of the gate, The Cellar settles into a familiar groove. Writer and director Brendan Muldowney doesn’t do much over the course of the movie’s 90 minutes to distinguish it either. Words like ‘generic’ and ‘derivative’ aptly describe The Cellar’s story. What we get is a grab bag of plot devices from the haunted house subgenre as well as the demonic and religious corners of horror. On top of these elements, Muldowney mixes in some science and math to offer up a taste of Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Unfortunately, none of these elements gel together to create a satisfying or remotely unique movie. Instead, The Cellar only reminds you of much better movies.
Words like ‘generic’ and ‘derivative’ aptly describe The Cellar’s story.
Simply put, there are a lot of things that just don’t work here. After a quick and effective setup, Muldowney allows the movie to unfold at a glacial pace. Intermittent scares pop up here and there set against a mildly effective atmosphere. But too little happens for much of The Cellar. Moving beads on an abacus is hardly terrifying enough to sustain mood. And when things do happen they feel rote and workmanlike. Otherwise Muldowney also recycles the handful of scares that do work. Everything about the movie looks good – The Cellar isn’t cheap or shoddy looking. And Muldowney sort of course corrects with a visually stunning finale and surprisingly bleak ending.
Could it Be, Satan?
In addition to an absence of genuine scares, The Cellar lacks a clear visual antagonist. Eerie goings-on works just fine if there’s a payoff. Too bad The Cellar consistently takes familiar pathways. By the time Keira’s husband discovers those pesky math symbols make a … gasp … pentagram, you’ve either turned the movie off or you’re groaning. And of course the stairs to the basement are some gateway to Hell where the goat-headed demonic deity, Baphomet, waits. Eventually Baphomet makes a brief, shadowy appearance. It’s underwhelming. Even after over 50 years, Baphomet’s appearance in Hammer’s The Devil Rides Out is far more unnerving than what’s on screen here. Without a human antagonist to herald the demon’s inevitable arrive, there’s a big void in the movie.
Despite a thin role, Cuthbert adds some emotional heft as an absent mother desperate fo find her missing daughter.
If there’s a consistent highlight to The Cellar it’s Elisha Cuthbert who delivers a performance that’s about the only thing that stands out. After headlining the better-than-expected House of Wax, Cuthbert’s last horror role was in the nasty Captivity. Despite a thin role, Cuthbert adds some emotional heft as an working mother desperate to find her missing daughter. No one else in the movie remotely registers. Through no fault of his own, Eoin Macken (Till Death) is kind of just there for most of the movie.
The Cellar …
Arguably, the most shocking part about The Cellar is just how lazy and derivative it often feels. From its premise to its sluggish pacing and sedate cinematography, Muldowney does little to set this effort apart from any other creepy house feature. Even if The Cellar lacked originality, it could have been scary or over-the-top. Instead, it’s something of a dull slog for large chunks. Poor Elisha Cuthbert. While it’s nice to see her back in the genre, she deserved a much better vehicle.