The Cellar is an atmospheric film that provides a narrative for you to invest in, but the payoff isn’t satisfying. The film had its debut at the South by Southwest 2022 film festival event. It does a great job at building tension, suspense, and the performances help save its weaker moments. Sadly, The Cellar starts to lose its footing in the second act before it builds to a thrilling finale.
Supernatural horror delivered two notable franchises in the last decade, Insidious and The Conjuring. The Cellar takes elements from both and it comes out to a mixed result. A family moves in, a child goes missing, and a presence is felt. The film isn’t bad, but the explanation of the activity takes away from its terror. I’ll just say that a certain school subject made the film slightly comical.
Directed and written by Brendan Muldowney, The Cellar follows Keira Woods, a mother who searches for her daughter after she disappears in the cellar of their new home. Elisha Cuthbert stars as Keira Woods and is joined by Eion Macken, Abby Fritz, and Dylan Fitzmaurice. House of Wax fans will enjoy Cuthbert in this role, as she does a tremendous job at portraying a concerned mother who wants to keep her family safe. It was great to see her return to the horror genre, even if the results aren’t that memorable.
An eerie atmosphere is established early on and grows more unsettling as the narrative progresses. The unease is felt by the viewer and Keira as she researches the house’s history. If not for its atmosphere and competent performances, The Cellar may have been a misfire. Its narrative is gripping, but the characters involved feel like an afterthought. Brian (Macken), Keira’s husband, is the standard in denial father. There’s tension between Keira and her daughter so that development allows you to root for while she researches.
The Cellar becomes less compelling as the mystery unravels, but it’s kept alive by a horrific final act. Exposition dumping takes over, which brings the mystery to a displeasing halt. Cuthbert shines as a mother who must remain strong for her younger son, yet is visibly broken by her daughter’s disappearance. As mentioned above, performances are strong for everyone, but their characters feel unimportant. Outside of Keira, the narrative doesn’t allow this family to be fleshed out before the terror tears them apart.
I wish the film kept playing with your mind because it opts to reveal its monster, which does allow some stellar VFX from that department. Muldowney effectively builds tension through the exterior shots of the house, its spooky cellar, and Keira navigating its dark halls. While its monster is revealed, The Cellar doesn’t overexpose the entity, it’s a quick glimpse at best. What’s effective about this is it still raises intrigue but doesn’t squander it through overexposure of the creature.
The creature design isn’t that unique, and posters for the film will showcase this as well. Shudder acquired The Cellar and will be releasing it soon on its platform. Horror fans will find something to enjoy from this new film. It’s not that good, but it isn’t the worst thing either. Its atmosphere is inviting, which makes up for the weak characters, and lackluster exposition dumping.
The Cellar is an enjoyable haunted house film that manages to retain your interest, despite coming to mixed results. Cuthbert’s performance was the strongest aspect that kept me invested, but the first act does a great job at reeling you in as well. Solid performances, a haunted house, every horror cliche, and a competent story that doesn’t go completely bonkers. The Cellar will satisfy some horror fans, and I’d say this one will be worth revisiting one day.