The final film of FrightFest at the 2022 Glasgow Film Festival was also the fourth Irish film to be screened over the weekend, writer/director Brendan Muldowney taking the Woods family through the gateway of mathematical madness and onwards to a literal descent into Hell when they move to a new home and explore The Cellar.
The rural mansion perhaps not in the best of repair it was commensurately cheap when bought at auction but despite the peeling paint it is not to be dismissed, the former residence of the mathematical genius John Fetherston whose presence is still felt in the impressive library, the symbols over the interior doors and the numbers carved in the risers of the stone steps to the cellar which conclude with an obscure formula.
Daughter Ellie objecting vocally to the disruption of her life, her brother Steven makes no such protests at the displacement or having his surly sister babysit him while Keira and Brian attend a late meeting to finalise the pitch of a major project, but when the lights flicker out it is Ellie who must go down into the cellar to locate the breaker box, a long descent from which she does not return.
A pot overflowing with ideas, some of them familiar from the topologica treatises of Heinlein and Danielewski —And He Built a Crooked House— and House of Leaves, despite the premise The Cellar is rushed and undercooked, spookiness abounding from within minutes of the family arriving at their new home in a manner reminiscent of the over-eager spirits of the remake of The Amityville Horror before the situation or the characters can be developed.
That might be an advantage, however, as the disappearance of Ellie (Abby Fitz) could be a blessing; grudging and resentful despite quite obviously having a not bad life and petulantly telling Keira and Brian (House of Wax’s Elisha Cuthbert and The Hole in the Ground’s Eoin Macken) that she hopes they lose their business and the house, accustomed to her behaviour Steven (Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady) understandably retreats to his games room which opens on an as-yet undiscovered secret chamber, the revelation of which passes unremarked by all.
Evil Dead’s reel-to-reel demonic summoning given a retro makeover with a gramophone of equations helpfully interpreted by Aaron Monaghan’s Doctor Fournet, the only character given a backstory which is as profoundly irrelevant to the plot as mom and dad’s marketing agency, while the visuals and soundscape of The Cellar are dankly oppressive and the compulsive counting is disturbing it lacks the discipline and focus required to adequately present a convincing thesis, the final result returned by the sequence a frustrating zero sum.
The Cellar will be available on Shudder from Friday 15th April
Glasgow Film Festival concluded on Sunday 13th March