The Cellar Review (SXSW)

Last Updated on March 22, 2022

PLOT: Keira Woods’ daughter mysteriously vanishes in the cellar of their new house. She soon discovers there is an anciet and powerful entity controlling their home that she will have to face or risk losing her family’s souls forever.

REVIEW: Some horror movie tropes are so familair that they go down like good comfort food. Some might call them out for lacking originality but if they’re executed well, it just goes to show the audience that there is a reason these tropes continue to be successful. The Cellar is a bit of a play on the haunted story and writer/director Brendan Muldowney uses this familiarity to craft a genuinely terrifying film. By using old devices with a fresh sense of execution, the film taps into some of our most basic fears. The terror comes from being alone and left in the dark. It’s also discovering the one person you hold dear to you the most is in danger. All of this is supported by strong performances, led by Elisha Cuthbert as she tries to think of a way for her daughter to get out of a trap she can’t easily get out of. One that has left them completely vulnerable.

Things start innocently enough. Keira (Elisha Cuthbert) and Brian (Eoin Macken) and their children Ellie (Abby Fitz) and Steven (Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady) are moving into a new house. Kiera and Brian need more space for their growing marketing business which is partly run from home. Then there is the issue of the teenage Ellie who is developing into a resentful teen that needs more space. Displaying typcial teenage disdain, Ellie already hates the house as soon as she steps inside of it. Something about the the house unsettles her and she’s more than distraught when her parents decide to leave her and her brother alone on their first night there because they have to go into town for a meeting. Things take a more frightening turn when the lights go out at the house and Ellie calls her mom to make her aware of these latest events. The fuse box is in the cellar and Keira is aware that it’s a bit unsettling but it’s only ten steps to go and she will talk her daughter through getting it back on. This turns out to be a decision that Keira will desperately regret.

The Cellar is built on various cliches but the quality in which they are presented are elavated to a level that generates palpable tension. The horror audience knows what these beats are but Muldowney uses them to make us think that we are in control. We may feel like we know what’s coming but he has some tricks up his sleeves to turn those cliches on their head a bit. Muldowney also uses his characters to convery fear. When Ellie has to first descend the steps to check on the fuse box, it’s the close-ups of her face and the counting motif that set the tone. We’re instantly put in her place as she enters the darkness and plays on our own fears of all things that go bump in the night.

Adding Muldowney is Tom Comerford’s cinematography which avoids setting up visual clues as to what’s realy going on until we really need them. There are ancient sayings over entrances that hint at a great evil but everything is allowed to unfold in a gradual manner. Muldowney is more concerned with playing the haunted house playbook by using ominous noises, figures moving in the dark, and twisted rituals possibly rooted deep in the legend of the home. The movie is more interested in creating a mood and it sustains that mood until its third act, which is admittedly more frantic but still manages to resonate. The film also uses match in a clever way that you don’t really see often, if at all, in horror films. At first it seems a bit bit offbeat but it’s a nice touch and it all makes sense in the end.

Elisha Cuthbert does a good job playing a mother who is at first at odds with her daughters rebellious behavior and then suddenly has to be her fearless protector and savior. Ellie has a reputation and it’s assumed her daughter has just run away when she seemingly goes missing but Keira knows something else is wrong here and it’s her determination that the viewer grabs onto. Cuthbert also shares solid chemistry with Eoin Macken and the duo present us with grounded parents who are easy to relate to. As Ellie, Abby Fitz also earns our sympathy. She might start out as a character wallowing in her teen angst but her fear, particularly when she first desceneds those stairs to the cellar, is what intitially brings us into the true frights of the story.

The Cellar is atmospheric horror at its finest. There are shades of The Amityville Horror and a touch of Lucia Fulci’s The Beyond here and its old school approach to the building tension, while familiar, displays a constant undercurrent of fear that is alluring and terrifying. As I mentioned before, there are reasons why classic horror movie tropes are consistently used. It’s just a matter of getting them right and The Cellar is certainly up to the task.

The Cellar, movie review, elisha cuthbert

The Cellar



About the Author

3191 Articles Published