Elisha Cuthbert Is Stellar In The Cliché-Filled Horror ‘The Cellar’

Shudder

Writer-director Brendan Muldowney’s The Cellar opens like thousands of other horror films that came before it: a family moves into a haunted house, but they don’t know it’s haunted… yet. The Woods family consists of mother Keira (Elisha Cuthbert), father Brian (Eoin Macken), and their two children, teenage Ellie (Abby Fitz) and the younger Steven (Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady). The house, a fixer-upper they got for a reduced price at an auction, is an Irish mansion complete with spooky mise-en-scene. Ellie getting stuck in the cellar at the beginning sets up a familiar and eerie foreshadowing of what’s to come.

When Keira, who is working in viral marketing, gets a call from Ellie about a power cut, she guides a scared Ellie into the cellar, telling her to count to 10 as there are 10 steps — but fear soon engulfs Keira when Ellie counts beyond 10 and disappears into the chilling, mysterious depths of the cellar. This is a highly effective scene adapted from Muldowney’s 2004 award-winning short film, The Ten Steps, on which The Cellar is based upon. The short utilises camera movement and sufficient storytelling during its limited screen-time to create tension much more skillfully than its feature counterpart, which relies too heavily on the tropes of its genre.

With Ellie gone, Keira tries to uncover the mystery of the house and its previous owners. She comes across strange markings engraved on the walls and it doesn’t take long before she suspects something supernatural is responsible and believes that the house took her daughter. Keira realises she must battle the entity or risk losing her family’s souls forever.

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Lots of overused clichés take place during Keira’s exploration: Google searches, useless police, paranormal experts, ancient markings, a creepy son, and even a husband who doesn’t believe his wife until it’s too late. Clichés can be used competently, but Muldowney lazily ploughs through them all like a checklist.

The Cellar tries its best to be inventive with the creepy basement trope, but any originality is flooded out by the overdone horror clichés, and the ebbs and flows of tension building happen so often that they start to fall flat. There are still some compelling horror scenes and fun jump scares, but there’s little substance to the overall plot due to an interesting but convoluted idea coming across as underdeveloped.

Cuthbert delivers a fine performance in her return to the horror genre, but The Cellar offers her little. There isn’t enough fear built up throughout the film’s short runtime to make the antagonist, which does eventually make an appearance, feel anything other than weak. It’s hard to care about the supernatural entity or the characters’ fates until we get a real taste of fear right at the very end.

The film’s last scenes are excellent and stand out, but The Cellar gets too lost in its own lore to explain anything adequately and maintain intrigue. If anything, Muldowney knows how to end a film in a way that leaves you wanting more, which is exactly what made his short film so successful in the first place.

The Cellar begins streaming on Shudder on April 15

by Toni Stanger

Toni Stanger is a film and screenwriting graduate with a passion for cats, horror films and middle-aged actresses. Her favourite films include Gone Girl, Heathers, Scream and Excision. You can find her on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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