It’s hard to condemn this movie but it’s tough to accept it either since there’s a sort of happy medium that it exists in and thus keeps The Cellar as a movie that is acceptable but not exactly worth crowing about. The idea of a home that is haunted by a powerful and malevolent spirit, or has something to do with a person making a deal with a demon, devil, or evil spirit, is something that manages to draw in a lot of people but does have a balance that needs to be struck to be truly terrifying. Otherwise, the story becomes a bit silly and even ridiculous since it does too much. That kind of happens in The Cellar, but the fact is that the lead-in to the big reveal does manage to show the kind of terror that does manage to get people hyped for what’s still to come. And yet, the movie also progresses at a pace that feels as though it’s shuffling along without any desire to hurry or even keep a steady pace.
The act of moving into the home goes the way that one might expect, as the couple’s daughter is less than pleased about the move, while their son simply goes with the flow. It’s not hard to understand that their daughter would be a little more susceptible, as she’s in the type of emotional state that leaves her at risk for possession or something worse. But while the direction the movie goes in feels rather standard, there is the feeling that there is something that people aren’t seeing that’s just elusive enough to haunt the edges of this movie until the big reveal is finally brought in. As far as the acting goes it feels as though it goes from lackadaisical to a little over the top, and not necessarily in a good way.
The terror that’s felt in this movie feels real at times and strangely absent at others for one reason or another. Elisha Cuthbert, arguably the biggest name in this movie, doesn’t really manage to pull the story out of the lethargic state that it falls into so easily, but she does try. Leading up to the disappearance of their daughter, the couple that has moved to this place appears to be doing their best when it comes to keeping things together and when it comes to keeping their kids happy. Their son doesn’t appear to have any issue with the house, as he’s usually off in his own little world, but the age difference between the brother and sister makes it easy to guess why. The fact that the young woman is a teenager does explain her attitude quite a bit, not to mention that she does sense something creepy within the house before anyone else does. When the couple finally takes notice of the strange symbols that are carved into various spots in the house, they begin to research the symbols and discover that they do carry a great deal of meaning. Unfortunately, that meaning isn’t good when it turns out that the previous owner of the home had apparently summoned something that many people didn’t fully understand.
The fact that a family disappeared before the current family moved in only makes the matter worse since it becomes a huge red flag that a lot of people might agree is a good reason to simply leave and never look back. But when the daughter disappears, and the mother can hear her daughter continue to count, things become a little more intense. The presence that is obviously within the house, even if it hasn’t been seen at this point, begins trying to snare the son, and makes it clear that there is something very strange going on that the couple can’t figure out. When the mother finally descends into the cellar, she finds that instead of ending after ten steps, the stone stairs go down and down to a doorway that eventually leads her to a gray, washed-out plain where hundreds of people continue to walk forward, each one of them still counting as they shuffle along to a horizon that is hidden by a leaden gray sky.
Once she retrieves her daughter and escapes back into the house, the ultimate reveal of the goat-faced demon is kind of anticlimactic, especially since the creature eventually heads back to its realm, allowing the family to close the cellar door. All seems well for a short while until the mother realizes that they’re not really free of the creature. As her husband and two children begin to count once again, the view shifts to an outer view of the home, revealing that the world outside resembles the demon’s realm. In other words, they’re trapped, and there is no escape. As horror movies go, this wasn’t that bad, but it didn’t stand out in a big way either.