Asham Kamboj’s film directing debut is a blatant bid to create a low-budget British horror film that uses a sense of claustrophobia to unsettle and alarm. There simply isn’t the cash for the effects that would ordinarily provide the visual shocks, so Kamboj has opted to let the power of your imagination – plus a few clunkingly obvious clues in the script – drive the fear factor.
The plot is slimmer than a supermodel on a diet of Slim-Fast shakes: a group of antiwar protestors are driving back after a demo and decide to take a route through the woods. When one of them has to answer the call of nature, they all get out of the car, stretch their legs and … find a passageway that leads to an underground chamber. It’s not long before Gary (Danny Dyer), Derek (Jimi Mistry), Pru (Emily Beecham), Sarah (Kierston Wareing) and Saffron (Lois Winstone) are trapped in this basement lair. And it gets worse for them, not only does there appear to be no obvious exit sign but someone or ‘thing’ may be down there with them.
So, you get the gist: it isn’t what you see, it’s what you can’t quite make out that’s going to get you twitchin’ like a birdwatcher who’s spotted a lesser-spotted warbling grebe. Basement is about a fear of the dark, and the fear that perhaps you don’t know yourself, or your friends, quite as well as you think.
There’s disappointment in that Basement can’t make more of its simple premise but the film is not scary or convincing enough to really shine. There’s such a desire to get to the ‘basement bit’ that you’re left with broadly sketched caricatures, and though horror is far from renowned for character development, Basement is too brazen with its disregard for what makes people tick.
Basement falls into the (ahem) trap of believing tension is created when nothing is happening but forgets that an audience needs something to happen, eventually, and when that comes it needs to be more than an “aw, shucks” moment. Among the leading players, no one disgraces themselves – though Danny Dyer seems particularly inert – but this movie is definitely a basement-dweller rather than a penthouse possibility.