Shudder and RLJE films are bringing a new tale of terror, The Cellar, to theaters and Shudder’s streaming platform. This latest feature from writer and director Brendan Muldowney (Savage, Love Eternal) follows the Woods family as they move into a new, spacious old home in the Irish countryside. On their first night in the new home, parents Keira and Brian have to go to a work meeting, leaving their teenage daughter, Ellie, in charge of the youngest child, Steven. That night, Ellie disappears. What follows is a mother’s desperate search for her daughter as she uncovers dark secrets about their new home.
On the surface, The Cellar appears to be a fairly standard haunted house horror film. It even falls into many of the tired tropes associated with that subgenre. Yet it injects enough history based on real writings and people to make it an interesting and enjoyable watch. The more we learn through Keira’s investigation into the strange markings in her home and the history of the person who built it, the more fascinating the film becomes. Many of the discoveries Keira makes are based on true historical information, but they are things the average person likely would not be familiar with. Some of these discoveries lead to eventual plot holes, but they still take the film from a standard haunted house film to something more connected to mathematics, alchemy, mysticism, and the occult. The plot also does something for me that rarely happens, but I always love when it does, which is it compelled me to research many aspects of the film. The amount of time I spent scouring the internet to learn more about the ideas presented in The Cellar is a sign of how fascinating the content is.
While all of the performances in The Cellar are well done, Elisha Cuthbert (House of Wax, The Girl Next Door) carries much of the film on her capable shoulders. Cuthbert plays Keira, the matriarch and sole American in the family unit. At first, Keira comes across as an emotionally detached mother who doesn’t really know who her children as individuals, especially her daughter. As she struggles with her daughter’s disappearance and learns valuable information about who her daughter is, as well as about the history of the house, Cuthbert really shines. It’s her regret at never really knowing who her daughter is, her determination to save her daughter, and her resilience that is the heart of this film. Honorable mention goes to the rest of the Woods family played by Eoin Macken (Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, The Forest), Abby Fitz (Redemption), and Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady (Kin).
The character Cuthbert plays opposite of the most is the house itself. Throughout The Cellar, it is clear that the house is meant to be seen as its own living, breathing entity. The best haunted house films have houses that become their own characters, and this film is no different. The set pieces, the attention to details with the symbols and mysticism, and the atmosphere all work together to make this house feel dangerous. The filmmakers also primarily rely on darkness to craft their scares, which is a brilliant and simplistic way to send shivers down the audience’s spine. There is one bigger practical effect in the climax of the film that is well done, even though it’s not the most original design. The filmmakers also chose to keep this mostly in darkness, allowing for the imagination to fill in the blanks.
The Cellar falls into some of the standard haunted house tropes, but engages the audience with a compelling mystery rooted in real historical mysticism. Muldowney crafts an intriguing puzzle for the protagonist, and the audience, to solve. With each new piece of information, the plot moves further away from the typical to the unexpected. Cuthbert proves once again that she is someone fans want to see more of in the horror genre. Even as it treads familiar ground, The Cellar still injects unique pieces to fascinate and insight terror.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10