Occult Horror Gets Lost At the Bottom of the Stairs in The Cellar (2022)
Title: The Cellar
First Non-Festival Release: March 25, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Brendan Muldowney
Writer: Brendan Muldowney
Runtime: 94 Minutes
Starring: Elisha Cuthbert, Eoin Macken, Abby Fitz
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Keira (Elisha Cuthbert) and her family, Brian (Eoin Macken), Steven (Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady), and Ellie (Abby Fitz), move into a sweeping Irish manor outside the suburbs of the city the live after a great deal at an auction. Ellie is displeased with the re-location and makes it clear that she is not happy with the home. Her discontent is potentiated by a terrifying ordeal where she accidentally gets locked in the home’s cellar. When Keira and Brian leave to attend a late-night marketing strategy meeting, Ellie calls her mother distraught and seemingly vanishes without a trace when Keira returns. Racked with immense guilt, Keira resolves to stop at nothing to find her daughter.
Supernatural Irish horror gets creepy with muddled Lovecraftian demonology in The Cellar.
Immersive worldbuilding allows The Cellar to craft a dark and mysterious story that makes for some interesting thoughts post film. Unfortunately, muddled writing blunts the effects of its compelling and creepy source material. Too many times within the film are answers easily found or understood. It cheapens the mystery and makes it difficult to engage with the story. The dialogue verges on the ridiculous, as lines are spoken in ways that no normal family would speak. It’s distracting and, again, takes away from the horror of it all. All of this to say, the story at its core is very compelling. Had the material been handled more thoughtfully it could have been positively horrifying.
Leaning into cliches, The Cellar sheds light on little new ways to unnerve the viewer. Outside of a few striking shots of the antagonist and the greater implications of Keira’s potential failure of saving her daughter, the film plays out like a “how to” guide on creating tension. Prolonged choirs of low humming bass vocals que nearly every scare. Answers can be found at the local university thanks to a super genius professor, whose backstory would make for an interesting film in its own right, and a surviving member of the family that went missing before who is now a resident of a senior living facility. Its reliance on numerology gets tiring quickly. Countdowns and counting dominate much of the dialogue in place of true scares. Time after time, The Cellar refuses to get original.
All of this could be excused, if the antagonist showed some teeth before the end. There are too many times to count where the Woods family is within the clutches of the beast, only for them to snap out of it moments before they are taken. Once would be enough, but this happens throughout the film’s 94-minute runtime, making it difficult to take the entity seriously.
While it fails in crafting its narrative, unlike its social media master protagonists, The Cellar shines visually. Devoid of interesting camerawork, most of the visual eye candy in the film comes near the end when the protagonists learn what is inside their house. Keira’s journey into the unknown offers some dazzling views and a glimpse of the horror she and her family will soon truly experience. Even still, its power is likely hard to truly translate to the screen, so props should be given to the filmmakers for attempting it in the first place and with such positive results.
Elisha Cuthbert is the standout in the film, while everyone else is clearly working behind her. She conveys the depth and the darkness with gusto. If the remainder of the cast took the film as seriously as she, there might have been more to stay invested in by the end. What’s more surprising is how much Cuthbert is able to pull from such an empty story. Keira’s character arc is typical for a strained mother daughter relationship and the mystery often falls into her lap. Still, Cuthbert makes Keira a character to root for and adds some depth to her motivations in finding Ellie.
Chilly atmosphere and offbeat lore make The Cellar an interesting and almost enjoyable experience in occult horror. Cuthbert’s strong leading performance catapults the film from fine to above average, along with its nightmarish visuals and strikingly good special effects. What weakens the film, however, is its sudden ending and hit-or-miss pacing that lead to a bevy of exasperated sighs. Ending on a nihilistic note doesn’t garner many favors from viewers either, as the plot development pans out much like a below average internet creepypasta. Still, there are plenty of moments to appreciate, and a few good bone-chilling scene s are worth a trip down to The Cellar.
Overall Score? 6/10