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Don't Count On It: Sickle's Take on "The Cellar"

The Cellar follows a family that moves into a haunted home. After the daughter goes missing, suspicion grows that an entity in the cellar is responsible.

[This movie was viewed on Shudder at the time of this review.]

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The Cellar Review

Despite a respectable concept, this film falls into the purgatory of the mundane and predictable. The finished product is a haunted house flick that is so trite and formulaic that anyone could casually assume every scene and line of dialogue having only seen just a few other haunted house movies before hand. It has it all (minor spoilers to plot structure): The angsty teenager that doesn't want to move into the place, the inexplicable increase of "hauntiness", the doubting husband, the gradual revelation of the house's history, the brief appearance of an academic to add to the exposition, the visit to a previous survivor in a mental institution, and the big final act. And while such unoriginality can be the death knell on its own, execution has the potential of saving it. But the failures don't end there.

The editing and acting are teeth-gnashingly bad. After the daughter goes missing early on, there is little urgency in the expressions and behavior of the parents. Yes, it is explained that the daughter has a history of running away, but even as the evidence for her disappearance becomes increasingly sinister, the parents still lack any urgency to find her or protect the rest of the family, including their annoying son. There are scenes where its evident that the entity in the house is trying to take the boy too, but the mother, even after witnessing this, immediately leaves the boy unattended in a room with a creepy hidden space that he hypnotically tried to walk into. Yes, even the great horror movies have moments of stupidity to ensure a kill or two, or to increase tension, but there is a balance...The best movies balance this with wise decisions that are simply countered by the evil or simply proven fruitless. These characters are just asking for it.

And I spoke to the editing...the reactions to moments of terror could have been corrected by some decent editing. For example, the aforementioned seen with the hypnotized son...why not cut the scene before we watch Cuthbert just abandon him after such a tense moment? Why do we have to watch her laughably walk out on him after witnessing his influenced, zombified walk? Another scene had Cuthbert locked away in the titular cellar...and the entity approached her on the stares (briefly boasting one of the film's best moments), when the door is eventually opened, the cut goes from her cowering and crouched to standing up with an almost annoyed expression. Elisha Cuthbert not only can't save this film from itself, but she arguably hurts it. There were times throughout the film where it felt like she and the young son were competing for worst performance in the movie (though, to be honest, the boy obviously won by a landslide). And the counting...THE INCESSANT COUNTING.

I did start this whole review with a brief compliment towards a respectable concept. Something that isn't quite explored enough in horror is alchemy. It's not a common catalyst to kick off a horror movie, despite its promising elements. And while this movie commendably attempted the topic, it butchered it in execution. The setting of the house and the symbols and clues spread throughout are great, but they aren't fully realized. We have complex formulas and equations shown throughout, but they inevitably amount to the "possessed", or "influenced", just counting...Like, not even the decimals of pi, or in groups of three...Just...counting...from 1 to 10...Like a three-year old. It's frankly not frightening, it's annoying...It makes the complexity of the alchemy on hand not only seem pointless, but the complexity in turn makes the counting even more noticeably asinine.

We do get a bit of "entity action" in the climax that helps ease the pain a bit. There was more happening in the final moments than I expected given what the budget had exercised to that point in the movie. It led to some interesting visuals, some decent moments of tension, and fun effects work. Inevitably, it wasn't enough to save the movie as a whole. It was the definition of insanity...doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. This was another regurgitated haunted house plot that brought very little new material. It could have, but it was more scared than the characters in its own movie.

Horror Rating System

Horror Qualifier: 8/10

Horror Quality: 3/10

Film Quality: 2/10

#thecellar #elishacuthbert #shudder

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