Shudder Original is rough around the edges
Currently streaming on Shudder, The Cellar is a new horror flick that has a lot of promise. Unfortunately, it falls down in some key areas so while there is the potential for something dark and scary, you might be reluctant to open the door to the cellar in the first place!
The film stars Elisha Cuthbert (24, House of Wax) as Keira, a devoted wife and mother who moves into an abandoned Irish mansion with her family. Before she can take her shoes off and put the kettle on, a spooky-looking cellar is discovered that seemingly contains the presence of evil. Needless to say, this won’t be any good for the property’s resale value!
When the power in the house goes out, Keira’s teenage daughter Ellie descends the stairs into the cellar to look for a circuit box. Unfortunately, she doesn’t return. After discovering her daughter has gone missing, Keira calls the police. Typically, they are as much use as a chocolate fireguard so Keira does some investigating of her own.
In the process, she discovers a mathematical equation that, once recited, opens up a gateway to Hell in the cellar. It soon becomes clear that this is where Ellie has ended up but as Keira tries to convince others of this, she realizes that she is alone in her conclusion. Her life goes from bad to worse when her husband and son become possessed and an ancient demon takes residence within her home.
Now, the premise of this creepy horror flick is a good one and there are flashes of creativity. The depiction of Hell is well-realised and the monster that invades Keira’s home is suitably scary. The music adds to the foreboding atmosphere as do the creaking sound effects that play out every time somebody steps foot into the cellar.
However, the film is less than the sum of its parts. Why? Well, the acting is fairly stiff and wooden so it’s hard to relate to the family or their predicament. The finger of blame could be pointed at the actors for this but I think the real problem lies with the confusing script which doesn’t give them a lot to work with.
Director Brendan Muldowney, who based the film on one of his previous shorts, does have talent, but as the film was shot during the pandemic, he seems to have been scuppered by the limitations he was put under. He occasionally musters up moments of horror and dread but with better shooting conditions, I think he could have delivered a lot more.
Another problem is the air of familiarity throughout the film. Horror fans have seen hundreds of evil house flicks and this doesn’t do much to stand out from the pack. It even replicates the bouncing ball scene that will be familiar to those who have seen The Changeling. It’s not completely unoriginal – I don’t think I have seen a horror film that hinges upon a mathematical equation before – but the movie loses its frightening edge because of genre tropes that are played out in a predictable fashion.
Still, I don’t think this is a film to be dismissed if you have a Shudder subscription. It’s not awful. Despite the wooden acting, mathematical mumbo jumbo, and weak jump scares, there is some good here. The imagery is often striking and scary, there is a sense of looming dread, and the ending is quite an effective one. It’s clear that this film does have potential. However, if you don’t have the patience to sit through a film that reminds you of better examples in the genre, you might miss out on the few positives that this production does have.
If you do decide to descend the staircase into the bowels of Hell that this film represents, you might cringe at the badly delivered lines and needless exposition. You might close your eyes and go into your happy place every time the film reminds you of the maths lessons you took at school. And you might be tempted to see what other horror films are on your streaming service when you get bored by what you see on screen. And to be honest, I wouldn’t blame you for doing any of these things.
But if you can give it a chance, you will discover a film that has been competently made, despite a few rough edges. So, while this will never be a film that will give you nightmares, it’s not a complete waste of your time, just like those maths classes you had to endure when you were younger.
Verdict - 5.5/10