Though the overlaps may be coincidental rather than intentional, it’s too soon for a movie to resemble M. Night Shyamalan’s 2016 horror thriller “Split” as much as “The Basement” does — and, unfortunately, the comparisons are not flattering. Even taken strictly on its own terms, this tale of a captive terrorized by a maniac with multiple personality disorder is so talky and static it might as well be a stage play. That format might also shed a better light on the lead turns that in close-up look like strenuous (albeit not especially impressive) audition pieces. Mischa Barton, who gets star billing in publicity materials, is in fact relegated to an uninteresting subplot, but at least she comes off better than the rest of the cast.
None too scary, let alone plausible, despite some gory bits, this indie collaboration by director-scenarists Nathan Ives and Brian M. Conley seems destined for minor impact when it opens on nine U.S. screens Sept. 14, simultaneous with VOD release.
Evidently a wealthy and well-known rock musician, Brit-accented Craig Owen (Cayleb Long) is enjoying an evening at his L.A. manse when wife Kelly (Barton) sends him out for another bottle of champagne. Evidently her taste isn’t all that upscale, since he heads to a pretty dumpy-looking corner store to fill her order. But Craig never makes it home — someone in the van parked next to his car deploys a taser, then drags him off.
He awakens shackled to a child’s school desk in a dank basement, and is further nonplussed to be “entertained” by Billy the Clown (Jackson Davis), a man with a mean temper in full Bozo-type regalia.
Things get worse: Craig (who is called “Bill” by his interrogator) is visited by a “good cop,” a “bad cop,” a convict (“You’re my fish now!”), a doctor, a lawyer, his “parents,” and finally a priest. All are played by the same fellow who essayed the clown, adopting different costumes and hairpieces in addition to personas, all acting out what Craig realizes is a scenario of Bill’s own guilt and deserved punishment; he is presumably the Gemini Killer, who’s been abducting and murdering local residents. As the wee hours lengthen toward his scheduled execution for his captor’s crimes, Craig tries to role-play his way out of his predicament.
Meanwhile, Kelly grows worried at home. The police can’t act until a person has been missing for 24 hours, so for comfort, she calls best friend Bianca (Bailey Anne Borders). But Kelly also suspects her husband has been cheating on her, and we’ve already gleaned that Bianca is the mystery woman with whom he might be doing it.
There’s a big twist at the end, but like everything else here, it aims for a shock effect that the film is simply too clumsy and psychologically far-fetched to pull off. Bill’s alleged split personalities are rote stereotypes to which actor Davis can’t lend any depth or special flair. Long runs a gamut of discomforts, but even the sadism Craig endures seems an uninspired concession to the horror market rather than brought forth by anything imaginative or particularly frightening. Flat dialogue drains any interest from the cutaway scenes involving Barton and Borders.
Assembly is adequate, although nothing leavens the shrill monotony of the audience being stuck in that basement. This is a movie in which claustrophobia seems more an unfortunate byproduct of budget economy rather than something deliberately exploited for atmosphere.