Review by Sean Boelman
The Midnighters section at SXSW is definitely a bit on the unpredictable side, but there is usually one film that is a genuinely good horror movie in its own right. This year, that is Brendan Muldowney’s The Cellar, a simple but efficient horror-thriller that will certainly satisfy fans of the genre.
The film follows a family who, shortly after moving into a new house, discovers that it may have a connection to a powerful and malicious supernatural force after their daughter goes missing. It doesn’t deviate much from the established formula of haunted house chillers, but it’s effective at what it does.
This is a slow burn horror movie, not one that is full of jump scares. It’s more about creating an atmosphere of dread, and it does so even though the mythology around which it isn’t particularly original. Even though it might go by a different name, this is the same evil presence that any demonic horror movie has.
There isn’t anything especially scary in the film, but even if it isn’t scary, it’s very effective. By the end of the movie, audiences will be pretty unsettled. It’s not so much about what the film shows, but rather the things it implies, because these are the things that are actually going to be disturbing.
The character development in the movie is also somewhat lacking. The issue with most stories that involve a character disappearing is that there isn’t enough time to become attached to them before they leave the story. As such, audiences have to connect with the story through their loved ones.
Elisha Cuthbert does an excellent job of carrying the film, bringing a lot of emotion to a role that easily could have been phoned in. Rather than just reacting to the things happening around her, Cuthbert actually gets invested in the movie on an emotional level. Eoin Macken also does a solid job in his supporting role.
The execution of the film is pretty impressive for a movie that is as obviously restrained as this. There are a few sequences with visual effects that aren’t the most polished, but they aren’t distracting. And the use of the central house set is excellent, doing a great job of creating the atmosphere.
The Cellar may not be the most original or unique horror film, but it’s enjoyable and successful for what it is. Solid performances and a great atmosphere make this one that horror fans will want to catch.
The Cellar is screening at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 11-19.