“The Cellar” establishes quintessential haunted signatures like electricity flickering right before blackouts or doors creaking open without visible reason. Refurbished moodiness hangs thick as Tom Comerford’s cinematography inspects cobwebbed corners or no-good nothingness, and that’s before children start reciting numerical patterns like an evil math wizard. Comerford cleverly avoids architectural clues until viewers should ponder them, like ancient sayings over entrances or etched symbols above doorways. We’re never foolish enough to assume Keira and Brian’s new home away from distractions is sacred soil. However, repulsive forces are hidden by pacing that emphasizes sustained tension over short-burst scares.
It’s difficult because “The Cellar” is a festival flick that leans so effusively on its third act, and there’s nothing I dare spoil. Elisha Cuthbert becomes the stereotype of mothers who’ll suspect any theories explaining their brood’s predicament, including help from a mathematician genius who can visualize numerical sequences after an unfortunate (er … fortunate?) vehicular accident. Haunted house rules become less rigid when mythologies unravel out of control (good and bad), as Cuthbert’s desperate performance pushes against Eoin Macken as the manly voice of reason. Their dramatic chemistry, along with Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady succumbing to the house’s trickery like another child of the corn, helps ground whatever evilness comes stomping upstairs from the cellar — and trust me, that’s literal.
That’s where I’m forced to leave y’all, with a message of patience and fulfillment in support of “The Cellar.” Brendan Muldowney nails the technical illustrations of haunted house creepiness but doesn’t stop with another throwaway possession or pale-faced spectral adversary. Muldowney pulls from the depths of Hell and creates this amalgamation of satanic influences sketched around algebraic formulas like Sam Raimi brainstormed with your least favorite high school subject’s teacher. Elisha Cuthbert reminds us that she belongs in stressful and invasive horror scenarios (“House of Wax,” “Captivity,”), shining as a matriarch motivated by guilt and battling unholy codes as another protagonist gone unbelieved. It’s a solid Friday night spookshow with solid bones and a divisive finisher — harmless horror entertainment that at least strives to be better than ordinary.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10