The general premise behind The Basement isn’t terrible. However, the way it’s carried out on screen leaves much to be desired.
Though the promotional materials would have you believe The Basement stars Mischa Barton, she’s barely in the film. Barton plays the wife of Craig (Cayleb Long), who goes missing during a quick, post-coital champagne run. Craig is snatched by Bill (Jackson Davis), who just happens to be the serial killer terrorizing their section of California. The bulk of the film shows Craig’s torture and containment at the hands of this madman. To add some extra spice to this bland formula, it turns out Bill likes to roleplay.
When we first see Craig tied up in a basement, Bill is dancing around in his big top clown costume. He’s honking a horn and stumbling with giant shoes on; you get the idea. But when we see him next, he’s dressed up like a police officer, accusing Craig of being the serial killer. This is honestly an interesting twist. It’s never made especially clear if Bill has multiple personalities or is this is just his preferred method of torture, but it makes him a delightfully unpredictable villain. Davis’s performance is well matched to the frantic character, and somehow this unchained ham is the best part of the film.
Make no mistake, Bill is fun to watch transform from one persona to the next, but he’s no evil genius. The film makes no attempt to craft any version of psychological intrigue or character depth. Bill moves the various affects with little understanding of any greater symbolism or meaning. Similarly, Craig’s only mode is trying to trick Bill, or “Bill,” into letting him go and crying though the pain. It is painfully one-note.
What weakens The Basement beyond reprieve are Barton’s scenes, which are unnecessary and dull. When she discovers that her husband is missing, she calls her best friend for comfort. The only reason we know that these two women are “best friends” is the fact that Barton utters those words. They have zero chemistry, both seem uncomfortable in front of the camera and around one another, and none of their dialogue points toward any affection for each other. Perhaps this awkward interaction is due to the fact that this friend is having an affair with Craig, which the wife knows about, but that doesn’t excuse telling us and not showing us the character relationship.
A decent bad guy is not enough to carry a film, even a horror film. I need to care whether or not the characters survive. I need to be entertained by quality gore. I needed much more than The Basement has to offer.