Both Sundance and SXSW had a large collection of solid midnighters this year. Many of these stand outs went over well with critics. So well in fact that horror streaming platform Shudder made made bids for as many titles as they could get their hands on. While many of their purchases were worth the price, they can’t all be gems.
“The Cellar” is the kind of horror film you’d expect to have been released in 2002, and that is NOT a compliment. It would fit perfectly in a time when countless subpar, below average, by the numbers horror films seemed to have a never ending run in theaters, and were watched more for comedy than any kind of actual scares. These types of horror films are made up almost entirely of disconnected tropes and cliches that commit every single mistake and gripe even the most staunch horror supporter has to admit are stupid.
“The Cellar” is all of this and more, and that is meant in every slanderous way I can mean it. It is truly every horror trope slapped together in a cacophony of lackluster ideas that neither scare nor excite nor intrigue anyone embarking on this strange, predictable journey.
It is wholly uninspiring with no payoff or worthwhile tension, to the point that I couldn’t name a single person in the film. Nor any of the pertinent information of who, what, why and where that serves as the most basic outline of character building and development. Everyone exists on paper only, with no need to care about the family, the house that’s clearly haunted, or whatever ends up happening to them by the end. “The Cellar” feels more like what not to do in horror, and simply can’t escape the mistakes of the past that we should truly be beyond at this point in filmmaking.
Written and directed by Brendan Muldowney, “The Cellar” marks the return of Eliza Cuthbert and Eion Macken (“The Forest,” “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter“) as a couple with two children who inexplicably move into a new, isolated mansion with a creepy cellar. Their daughter goes missing after she ventures down into the cellar alone, and mom begins to uncover the truth about the mansion and the evil that lurks there.
I’d love to tell you that more happens, but “The Cellar” has no more depth than what’s written on paper. Not only is it’s synopsis pretty standard with little originality, the film itself does nothing to make a case for it to exist in the first place. It’s not self aware enough to travel into horror/comedy, it’s not bad enough to be comedy/horror, and not scary enough to qualify as a horror movie. Just tropes and nothing more.
I can’t stress enough how uninventive and uninspiring “The Cellar” is. Cuthbert has all the capabilities to be a leading actor, but this is an ill advised choice to return to the genre. No one here matters. Not only can I not tell you a single name of anyone in the film, I can’t tell you why or how they got the house, anything about the house’s actual history that would inform why it’s haunted, or even what the hell the couple does for a living. It has something to do with social media marketing and targeted ads, but this film is so unconcerned with their own characters that it fails to give viewers the slightest reason to care about any one of them.
All of this could be somewhat saved if the reveal was worth it, but it makes about as much sense as the family’s newly acquired home. If I gave you 3 guesses as to what the ancient evil could be, you’d probably get it dead on in two without ever seeing the film. “The Cellar” feels like it’s not even trying, with only one seen that involves a countdown that packs any kind of punch. The rest of mystery unfolds with the most dull method of exposition; math and symbols. That’s right- this film inexplicably tries to make math and mathematical equations the key to understanding, unleashing and attempting to contain the evil in the house.
If you were already uninterested in the characters, a countdown sequence equivalent to reciting PI through a phonograph isn’t doing any favors. Yes, that’s a real thing that happens. And I’m still not entirely sure why or how it’s connected to the evil in the house. The entire plot is predicated on audiences caring about the daughter mysteriously vanishing without a trace, but we know her for all of 10 minutes before she disappears. Without any investment in anyone, the search for her becomes tedious and exhausting rather than interesting.
The reality is we’re past this kind of horror filmmaking, and “The Cellar” sticks out for all the wrong reasons. It fails to compete with any of it’s festival counterparts.
I actually ranked it as one of the worst films from SXSW, and it was a genuine let down because I really like Cuthbert and really wanted her return to be a much better film. After so many great horror films coming out of the festival season (like “Sissy,” “Bitch Ass,” “X,” “Piggy,” “Deadstream,” “Fresh,” and many, many more) “The Cellar” is a hard left from an otherwise solid block of genre this year.
Lastly, even with all the lackluster scares, convoluted and uninteresting narrative, and unoriginal use of every horror trope imaginable, “The Cellar” also has nothing to say in the end. You can make an average movie better if at the very least you have themes with purpose, but this one really doesn’t have anything other than old timey mansions are creepy and cellars are probably haunted. There is quite literally nothing deeper than what’s on the surface, making this a shallow outing that never really gives us anything to enjoy.
Of all the strong horror/thrillers coming out, “The Cellar” is one of the bad ones, out of touch with the current state of its own genre and leaving viewers with nothing more than wasted time.
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
“The Cellar” will be available in limited theatrical release. It’ll hit Shudder on April 15th, 2022. You can watch the trailer below.