Things that go bump in the night no longer scare us silly.
We’ve been inundated with haunted house movies over the past decade, and even the best of the bunch can wear out its welcome.
Creaking doors. Ominous noises. Been there, heard that.
So it’s a miracle that an early, consequential scene in “The Cellar” leaves us breathless. The rest of the film can’t match that moment, but it’s still a first-rate thriller with a sour sucker punch.
Elisha Cuthbert stars as Keira, mother to an oh, so grumpy teen named Ellie (Abby Fitz). They’ve just moved into a standard-issue haunted house (oh, it’s not labeled as such, but come on!), and it’s widened the gap between mama and child.
The fact that Cuthbert and Fitz sound American, while hubbie Brian (Eoin Macken) and their young son, Stevie (Dylan Fitzmaurice-Brady) have a tangy Irish accent, isn’t given a satisfactory explanation.
The parents whisk off to a late work meeting, leaving the children home alone in this creepy abode. Naturally, the lights go out and poor Ellie must go to … wait for it … the cellar to find the fuse box.
This scene, which sets the movie’s plot in motion, is one of the creepiest sequences in recent memory. Writer-director Brendan Muldowney doesn’t trot out any unusual tricks, but the overall effect is undeniably tense.
Now, Keira and Brian must find out where poor Ellie disappeared to, but the answers may put everyone at risk.
Some horror movies peak too soon, including the otherwise slick “A Quiet Place: Part II.” “The Cellar” certainly qualifies, but Cuthbert powers the slower moments with her maternal strength. She refuses to believe Ellie just ran off without warning.
It’s not woke, just Biology 101.
Keira’s investigation unveils the usual horror tropes, and the appearance of the Explainer Guy later in the film hardly separates “The Cellar” from recent genre efforts.
We’re still invested in Ellie’s fate, and how the movie slowly reveals the significant stakes at play.
Had “The Cellar” soared past the 90-minute mark we’d lose our patience. Instead, things wrap briskly, although the ending may leave some audiences cold, or just plain chilled.
Stephen McKeon’s score starts strong, and we fear it will overstay its welcome but that never happens. Cuthbert gets solid support, from the teen actors in harm’s way to direction that understands the balance between thrills and credible developments.
“The Cellar” shows there’s still some life left in this exhausted genre, assuming the storytellers can reassemble the haunted house puzzle pieces just right.
HiT or Miss: “The Cellar” boasts one of the most engrossing scenes in recent horror memory, and the rest of the film is good enough to keep up.