A seemingly innocent man is abducted by a notorious L.A. serial killer, who forces his victims to switch roles with him so that he can enact his own capture, torture and murder.
Brian M. Conley
Brian M. Conley
Bailey Anne Borders
Kareem J. Grimes
The Basement is a new horror/thriller film from co-writers/co-directors Brian Conley and Nathan Ives. It celebrated its World Premiere at the 17th Annual Shriekfest Horror Film Festival in Los Angeles.
Once you’ve read the next paragraph, with my synopsis – you’ll have the same immediate impression that I did – sounds a heckuva lot like M. Night Shyamalan’s Split from earlier this year. But we’ll get to that later.
Successful LA singer/songwriter Craig Owen (Cayleb Long) takes a trip to the local convenience store to get a bottle of bubbly – at the behest of his wife Kelly (The Sixth Sense’s Mischa Barton). Following the purchase, on the way to his car, he’s abruptly and violently kidnapped. As time ticks on, Kelly grows frantic – calling the police (but of course, you can’t file a missing persons report until the 24-hour mark) and eventually her friend Bianca (Bailey Anne Borders) who joins her at the Owens’ home. The story goes back and forth between Kelly and the particularly disturbing predicament in which Craig finds himself. He’s been tethered and is being tortured in the basement of someone known only as “Bill” (Jackson Davis). And one by one, Craig will be introduced to Bill’s endless parade of multiple personalities.
There were so many lovely details to The Basement (including a call out to The Silence of the Lambs) — things that not all will necessarily pick up on, or which might not resonate as they did with me.
There’s a small detail in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore – which always puts a lump in my throat, and proved to be ultimately endearing. Do you recall the giving of a gift to Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) from his young buddy, Dirk (Mason Gamble)? It’s been a good long while since I saw this film, so I don’t recall the gift or the situation in which it was given. What I do vividly remember was that wonderful detail of the Scotch Tape used to wrap the present. The little “starter” piece of the Scotch Tape roll (you know what I’m talking about) was not removed prior to the giving of the gift. And it said so much about the character. It’s a telling and heart-warming detail which many might see as simply a throwaway.
This long-winded recount of that 1998 classic… what the hell does it have to do with The Basement?
Well, there’s a similar child-like and innocent delivery of an item to Craig by one of Bill’s personalities – and it had the exact same heart-warming quality. I can’t really say what it is – those damned spoilers – but when you see it, you’ll know it.
That’s all I’ll say. Oh, and that I loved this moment and this specific detail. It says a lot about the character’s mind and his past. Very smart film-making.
And now onto the performances. I reviewed a film last year called Red Christmas, starring the always-brilliant Dee Wallace. The film wasn’t perfect, but it was quite enjoyable. As I was hemming and hawing over my score, I decided that a 3.5-star would be appropriate. But then I got to thinking harder about the amazing performance from Wallace – and so I upped the review to a solid 4-star rating… because of one performance. I can’t recall a time when that occurred before or after… until now.
Jackson Davis is a breath of fresh air and an acting wonder. The film was flirting with a 3.5, and upon completion of the screening, I had to up it to a 4 (a la Red Christmas‘ precedent) because of the amazing and impressive work Davis does in The Basement.
As I mentioned above, the immediate comparison will be made to Split. I gave that film a 3.5 in the end, and yes – I had many problems with the piece. But there was no denying that James McAvoy’s performance as a character with split personalities – was something to behold.
That being said, I will go out on a limb, and perhaps receive a lot of flack for this statement… but I think that Davis’ performance was stronger, more varied and more interesting than that of McAvoy.
There. Now it’s out there.
There’s beautiful humanity, frightening anger, desperate confusion and immense sadness in every one of Bill’s personalities. Armed with the intelligent dialogue written for him (we’ll discuss momentarily), Davis nails each and every one of these people. Basically, it’s a performance which deserves some serious attention – from film-makers, from casting directors and from a wide audience. Nothing more to say, but “wow”.
While there were some personalities which would fall at the bottom of any potential favorite’s list – I defy any audience member at this particular screening (or at future showings) to name a favorite which is NOT the lone female persona which Davis inhabits.
This scene was expertly staged, beautifully performed by both actors and hits you hard in your heart. There are moments in films when you lose yourself in a character/scene – when everything which needs to work, works. The exchange mentioned here is one of those rare moments of movie-making kismet.
As Craig, Cayleb Long takes some time to warm up. By the film’s final moments, his true acting chops are on full display – but some of his early stuff didn’t quite hit its mark. And I wasn’t a fan of the British accent. It seemed to go in and out a bit, and frankly – I don’t see the need for the character to be British. In fact, I think it would have been a great trait for the character – as things continue downward in this pitfall situation – that he might have lost the accent… proving that it was all a part of his douche-y musician persona (he drives a Lamborghini for Godssake). It would have been an interesting detail.
As is, it feels as though Long is always playing catch-up with the work of Davis. Again, Long’s not bad, but it took until the film’s second half for me to appreciate his acting choices.
Mischa Barton as Kelly, Craig’s wife – was wholly unnecessary. And her lackluster performance (other than her very final scene – which was solidly acted) makes me believe that she also knew her part in this film was sort of pointless.
But someone after the film disagreed with me. We need those cutaways to catch a quick breath after the Craig/Bill scenes. And while I agree with that assessment, I think the filmmakers could have found a more creative way to give the audience a reprieve. With the dialogue and the phoned-in performance from Barton – every time the film cuts back to her, you could practically hear the high-pitched “screeeeech” of car brakes. It was truly that bad.
While I don’t think the film completely succeeds, there’s a big nugget of immense promise at the film’s core. I think the writers could have dug a little deeper – perhaps also giving Craig a bit more history and personality. But the central concept is extremely powerful.
The film tends to feel disjointed. Again, with the constant switches back to the boring-ass Kelly scenes – it really does feel like two different films. One has to wonder if certain sequences were tackled by one of the two directors – and that this co-direction model accounts for the distracting dichotomy of the film’s tone.
And on that topic, the score during the intense Bill/Craig scenes was damn good. But every time it switched back to Kelly – it turned melodramatic and then felt like sappy soap opera music. No.
Also, it’s notable that all of Kelly’s dialogue is terrible. Some sprinklings of Craig’s dialogue are not good. But every word uttered by any of Davis’ characters – was spot-on, inspired and detailed. This isn’t a cardinal sin, but when such shifts in the quality of dialogue are so apparent – it’s another distraction.
The film could also have been tightened a bit – again, maybe by cutting some of Kelly’s scenes or losing one of the less important Bill personalities.
The Basement does have a twist. Apparently, I’m one of the only audience members at last night’s screening to not pick up on it as quickly. But I’ll forgive myself that little brain fart – since I was so intently focused on Davis’ acting.
The special effects are all pretty convincing, but nothing could prepare me for the film’s final moments. All I’ll say is that’s its rough. Not rough as in quality, but rough as in – ewwww…
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out the hysterically funny “pizza man” scene. Another one of those great details which don’t necessarily move the story ahead – but they sure are a lot of fun.
As I start to wrap-up the review, I’ll paraphrase/borrow from a critic out of the past. Forgive me, I can’t recall the writer who penned these words. But it was something like, “A performance too powerful to be ignored”, when discussing Kathleen Turner’s (should be) legendary work in Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion.
I want to use that borrowed (pilfered?) phrase here as well.
The Basement is nowhere near perfect, but at its center is “a performance too powerful to be ignored”. And despite many other quality components – the biggest reason to see The Basement, is to watch, marvel and shake your head in amazement – at what Jackson Davis brings to his tortured and broken character.
The Basement is currently in various distribution discussions, so no wider release information is yet available.