Haunted house stories can be hard to get right. They’re one of the oldest staples of horror, and it seems like every take on them possible has already been done. Despite this, The Cellar manages to find an odd little niche to expand upon ghosts, spirits, and the world of the occult: mathematics.
The Cellar follows the Woods family, who have moved into a huge new home that they bought cheap at auction. The house, a huge old manor complete with massive fireplaces, old portraits on the walls, and a fully stocked library, is being pushed as a new start by parents Keira (Eisha Cuthbert) and Brian (Eoin Macken), and whilst young son Steven (Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady) is excited for the move, teenage daughter Ellie (Abby Fitz) hates the idea. Ellie’s hate for the house intensifies when she gets stuck in the cellar whilst touring the house, and gets creeped out by something in the darkness.
When Keira and Brian have to head in to work for an important pitch on the first night in the new house, Ellie is left in charge. When Steven finds a secret compartment in one of the rooms that has an old gramophone, they play the record to find a recording of a strange mathematical equation.
When the power goes out later that night Ellie has to head into the cellar to turn the fuses back on. Terrified of heading in there alone she stays on the phone with her mum. Keira encourages Ellie down into the cellar, telling her to count the ten steps down as she goes to calm herself. But when Ellie keeps counting, her voice going strange, Keira and Brian rush home to find out what’s going on. When they return Ellie is missing. Keira is convinced that something strange is going on in the old house, something connected to the odd mathematical carvings scattered around the building.
The Cellar is a haunted house story mixed with a mystery. The first portion of the film focuses on building tension with small scenes that show Ellie becoming more and more afraid of the house, and the cellar in particular. These moments are pretty well done, and thanks to some long, lingering camera shots, some creepy music, and well crafted sets, the house does quickly get a spooky vibe to it. Even when Ellie disappears and the film takes on more of a mystery vibe to it there are some pretty creepy sequences scattered throughout. One in particular made my skin crawl.
The central mystery of the piece, the strange cellar and the odd carvings and formulae scattered throughout the house, is one that I found genuinely intriguing, and thanks to a handy mathematics professor that Keira can visit, we get some suitably vague explanations for what’s going on that leads to a type of haunting that feels strangely different from most. This isn’t just a lingering spirit, and it’s not your average demon summoning. The Cellar is genuinely trying to do something different here, and I think it deserves points for that alone. Though in some ways the film does remind me of 2010’s Insidious. I won’t say why, but once you’ve seen the film I’m pretty sure you’ll get what I mean.
The films focuses on the Woods family, and as such only has a small cast. Outside of the family itself there’s only a handful of named characters and speaking parts, and as such the core cast have to work hard to carry the plot themselves. Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady and Abby Fitz are pretty good in their roles of the kids, with Fitz in particular coming off well. She plays the angry teenager well, though has a level of vulnerability to her that you genuinely believe her when the cellar leaves her terrified. There are times where Fitzmaurice Brady comes across as a little creepy, and I’m not sure if it’s an intentional part of the film or not, but it definitely doesn’t hurt for a horror film.
Eoin Macken falls into the stereotypical horror father role, of not believing that there’s a supernatural explanation for his daughter’s disappearance, and has to be brought round to believing the very obvious creepy things happening around him. Cuthbert, however, is the stand out star of the film. This was the first time that I’d seen her in anything since 24, and found her completely unrecognisable. Being twenty years older than the last time I’d seen her, and with completely different hair colour, she felt like a different actress in this film.
READ MORE: Grimmfest Easter 2022 – Highlights Reel
She fits the mother role well, and you can see a genuine struggle going on for her as she tries to balance her work life with her kids. She also seems to still be playing an American character, despite sounding Irish half the time. The occasional slips into a more American accent and the use of certain words show that she’s not native Irish like her family, and this made for some great subtle character choices, showing her as someone who has mostly assimilated to living across the world, yet still slips from time to time. Having known people who have married into Irish families, and who’ve ended up picking up a lot of the accent and words to the point you’d think they were Irish too, it felt like a very believable choice for the character.
The Cellar is overall a pretty enjoyably movie. It has some good moments of tension, doesn’t really rely on jump scares or loud music to make the audience feel frightened, and has a unique twist on this kind of story. But it’s far from perfect; it doesn’t really take too many chances, and it doesn’t always keep the tension going. I’d have loved to have seen more time spent on certain aspects of the movie, but sadly because it never took the time to do so it’s not going to be a film that stands out from the crowd.
The Cellar premieres on Shudder on 15th April.