'The Basement': Film Review

The Basement Movie Still 1 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Film

A personality-shifting serial killer keeps his latest victim captive in Brian M. Conley and Nathan Ives' horror film.

When you see a screaming, bare-breasted woman covered in blood before the opening credits, you pretty much know what kind of film you're in for. Such is the case with Brian M. Conley and Nathan Ives' torture porn horror film, which puts an unusual spin on a repugnant subgenre. Featuring a villain who inflicts as much psychodrama as pain on his captives, The Basement has the feel of a stilted off-off-Broadway audition piece.

Mischa Barton (The O.C.) is the name and face adorning the ads, but the real stars of the film are Jackson Davis, as a homicidal maniac dubbed the Gemini Killer, and Cayleb Long as Craig, a rock star who becomes his latest hapless victim. The story begins with Craig's wife, Kelly (Barton), requesting that he pick up a bottle of champagne at the liquor store. Just after receiving a text from his secret girlfriend, Craig is tasered in the parking lot and thrown into the back of a van by an unseen assailant.

He wakes up in a dank basement, where he's incongruously confronted by a clown. It turns out that the garishly dressed jester is but one of the many personas of the madman whose signature method of killing is decapitating his victims with a blowtorch. The killer periodically heads upstairs and soon returns in a different guise, addressing his prisoner as "Bill." His characters include a uniformed police officer, a hard-boiled detective, a prison inmate, a nerdy doctor, a lawyer, a prison guard, a priest, and Bill's father and mother, the last performed in a dress and blond wig.

The figures are not random but rather characters in a drawn-out scenario in which Bill is in prison waiting for his death sentence to be carried out at dawn. The lawyer informs him that his appeal for a stay of execution has been denied, and the prison guard asks him what he wants for his last meal. In an effort to buy time, Bill says that he would like a slow-roasted turkey. Unfortunately for him, his choices are a cheeseburger and pizza.

Of course, the evening isn't just about the playacting in which Craig desperately attempts to outthink his tormentor. The killer also periodically tortures his victim, knocking out his teeth and cutting several fingers off, among other things. The latter proves particularly traumatic for Craig, inasmuch as he makes his living playing guitar.

Every once in a while, the story shifts to Kelly, worriedly trying to figure out her husband's whereabouts with the emotional support of her best friend (Bailey Anne Borders).

Unlike the twisted central figure in M. Night Shyamalan's Split, the villain here doesn't seem to be suffering from multiple personality disorder. Rather, he comes across like an overeager actor so committed to his performance that the torture and killing is an afterthought. But while Davis and Long are very effective in what amounts to a two-hander, the writing is so artificial and strained in its attempts at mordant humor that the proceedings become ludicrous. And the attempt at a shocking twist ending has all the impact of a minor plot revelation on a daytime soap opera.

For all its vividly and realistically rendered graphic violence and gore, The Basement is an example of torture porn at its most ironic. It threatens to bore its audience to death. 

Production: The Conley Company
Distributor: Uncork'd Entertainment
Cast: Mischa Barton, Jackson Davis, Cayleb Long, Tracie Thorns, Bailey Anne Borders, Sarah Niclin
Directors-screenwriters: Brian M. Conley, Nathan Ives
Producers: Brian M. Conley, Sean Decker, Mark Heidelberger, Nathan Ives
Director of photography: Kenneth Stipe
Production designer: Julian Brown
Editor: Brady Hallngren
Composer: Aaron J. Goldstein
Costume designer: Roxanne Hutton

88 minutes