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Going deeper underground: LFF checks out new Shudder shocker, The Cellar

Released theatrically in the states and everywhere on Shudder on the 15th of April, The Cellar is written and directed by Brendan Muldowney (Pilgrimage) and stars Elisha Cuthbert (The Girl Next Door), Eoin Macken (The Forest) and Abby Fitz (Redemption).

Brian and Keira Woods (Macken and Cuthbert) move into a suspiciously cheap country house in the middle of nowhere with their surly teenage daughter Ellie (Fitz). With a big advertising deal on the line, marketing bods Brian and Keira leave Ellie alone on the first night. When the power goes out, Ellie goes down into the cellar to flip the circuit breakers and vanishes.

With the police absolutely hopeless, Keira starts investigating. Up until now things have been fairly standard haunted house. Don’t get me wrong, the suspense set pieces are really well done, with Ellie’s disappearance while on the phone to her mum and summoning the courage to go down the cellar stairs a particular standout, but it’s creaky floorboards and doors, and creepy records of a creepy scientist played on a creepy gramophone – well done and spooky but nothing we’re not used to – but it is the procedural element to The Cellar that makes it special.

The suspiciously cheap country house turns out to be ‘Kaos House’ and previously owned by a mad alchemist who scratched all manner of runes, sigils and glyphs above the doors and into the stairs. Deciphering this residential alchemy formula is the key to getting Ellie back. The putting together of this puzzle and its eventual reveal is extremely entertaining and Muldowney paces it just as well as he does his suspense and scares.

All this is elevated by a note perfect score from Stephen McKeon (The Hole in the Ground) and tense and manipulative all the best and right ways sound design by Jeroen Truijens (Mandy).

It will make some of us feel very old seeing Elisha Cuthbert now being cast in a mum role, but she is an excellent lead. A determined detective with the charisma and screen presence to be able to draw you into the mystery she is solving and make doing research and looking for clues edge of the seat stuff.

‘Surly teen’ in a horror movie can be a poisoned chalice and make for an annoying character we’re not sad to see vanish, but Abby Fitz strikes a good balance between moody and vulnerable, making us remember what it was like to be that age, but still empathise with her – not roll our eyes at her.

It is only a small part (THERE ARE NO SMALL PARTS) but Aaron Monaghan (Assassin’s Creed) as the mathematician Keira visits for help shines in just his one scene. A normal guy who could barely multiply until an accident left him a numerical genius that can visualise equations, his Dr. Fournet is one of those characters you would kill to see more of, and if there is a follow-up he should be first on the casting sheet.

A standard scarer hoisted a star and a half by an original and intriguing mathemagical mystery, THE CELLAR will be in Theaters and will stream on Shudder April 15.

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