email print share on Facebook share on Twitter share on LinkedIn share on reddit pin on Pinterest

SXSW 2022

Review: The Cellar


- Don’t buy those “reasonably priced” old houses, people, or there will be hell to pay, as director Brendan Muldowney proves

Review: The Cellar
Elisha Cuthbert and Abby Fitz in The Cellar

Premiering in the Midnighters section of SXSW, the Irish-Belgian horror The Cellar [+see also:
interview: Brendan Muldowney
film profile
by Brendan Muldowney makes one extremely good point, which is that Maths brought darkness into the world. Kind of. Also, whenever its hapless characters start counting, things go terribly wrong. For anyone who still wakes up at night in a cold sweat, having dreamt of an impromptu Maths test, The Cellar will be a pleasing, I-told-you-so experience, even though it also shamelessly copies many of the horror clichés. Come to think of it, you can actually count them, too.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Number one would be the absolute classic: an old, suspicious-looking house that someone always gets at a relatively low price, which in itself should already raise some red flags. Here, it’s as if the previous owner wasn’t even trying to hide the fact that something was off, leaving the property full of “creepy paintings and old stuff”, as Keira’s (Elisha Cuthbert) teenage daughter Ellie (Abby Fitz) gloomily points out. Ellie doesn’t want to be moving into that house, not at all, but her parents are too busy at work to notice – she has also caused enough trouble before for them to assume that she is exaggerating again. When they are stuck in the office at night, leaving her and her brother alone, she has to go down to the cellar during a power cut. Her mother, on the phone, asks her to count to ten as she goes down – by that time, she will already be there. But Ellie just keeps on counting. And counting.

This all brings us to clichés number two (scary basements), three (doors opening for no reason) and four (a mother, or a mother figure, forced to fight some dark forces in order to save her child), but all of this familiarity doesn’t stop The Cellar from being fun – that is, once you get over the fact that Cuthbert, the blonde early-aughts icon known for 24 and The Girl Next Door, is now a brunette and apparently grown up enough to play somebody’s mum. Jesus.

Some of it is hilarious – there is a character here who became a mathematical genius after an accident and now literally paints the number pi. But there are effective moments as well, perfectly exemplified by that first, panicked phone call. If a child, especially a moody teenager, tells you she is too scared to go down a few steps, all of the parental guidebooks kick in – this is your chance to make her face her fears, trust you and finally stop all the drama. But the fear, beautifully acted out by Fitz, is obviously real, which makes the scene play out like slow-motion torture. This is the twisted beauty of horror as a genre – “facing your fears” isn’t commendable in these films; it’s stupid. It’s ignoring your instinct, your gut feeling, everything that tells you that whatever is lurking out there in the darkness isn’t a friend.

Once Ellie disappears, leaving her mother reeling, the investigation follows. Deciphering weird symbols placed above the doors and finding out more about the house’s twisted story (as well as her daughter’s, who had her own painful secrets) is another recognisable move. But Muldowney also delivers a barmy finale that is actually a tad sombre and shows a parent whose biggest fear is that she has failed her child. What’s even scarier is that she might be right.

The Cellar is an Irish-Belgian production staged by Epic Pictures, Hail Mary Pictures, Savage Productions and Wrong Men North. It is distributed in Ireland by Wildcard.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.

Privacy Policy