Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Nathan Ives, Brian M. Conley
Writer: Nathan Ives, Brian M. Conley
Producer: Nathan Ives, Brian M. Conley, Mark Heidelberger
Stars: Jackson Davis, Cayleb Long, Bailey Anne Borders, Tracie Thoms, Kareem J. Grimes, Mischa Barton
A serial killer with multiple personalities projects his true identity onto a victim with an unusual connection to his past.
Reviews perused ahead of screening “The Basement” essentially assured the same thing. Despite being a low-budget thriller with a previously seen premise, the two lead actors appearing in 99% of the movie nevertheless delivered knockout performances. They may be relatively unknown now, but after their tour de force turns here, Jackson Davis and Cayleb Long would become names film fans would remember.
Frankly, skepticism persisted. Not to be a Pessimist Pete, but I’ve rolled through enough homebrewed efforts with slim scripts and slimmer bankbooks, and read enough puffed-up praise from people with undisclosed connections to a production, to know that true DTV gems come along so rarely, they may as well sprout a single horn above their eyes when they do.
What’s the unbiased skinny on how well Davis and Long actually carry “The Basement?” They’re okay, even above average for this knee-high tier of B-movie, but certainly not exceptional.
Long’s British accent may be the most believable one I’ve heard from a North American actor since Jordan Gavaris on “Orphan Black.” He also has one emotional scene in particular where his impassioned tears strike another convincing chord.
Like the multiple personalities he portrays as serial killer Bill, a.k.a. “Gemini,” Davis’ acting runs all over the spectrum from exhibiting passable cinema psychosis to comically implausible silliness. Hit or miss, mostly miss, would be a polite way to put it. Although in fairness, an ice-cold story bears the most blame for making “The Basement” a meager movie.
Abducted outside a liquor store, successful L.A. musician Craig Owen becomes The Gemini Killer’s latest captive. Gemini, whose real name is Bill, ties Craig to a school desk in his basement, kicking off a long night of physical pain and psychological torment. Cycling through a parade of personas from arresting officer and interrogating detective to prison guard and parents visiting on Death Row, Bill projects his true identity onto Craig, taking him through a torturous tour of Bill’s past, present, and future over the course of their two-man faceoff.
Anyone who tries telling you “The Basement” has a surprise shock in store is either outright lying or someone with highly suspect powers of perception. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall the last time I saw a “twist” this ridiculously telegraphed.
SPOILERS, I GUESS?
“The Basement” opens on text unnecessarily explaining that in the zodiac, Gemini signifies “the twins.” Around the 30-minute mark, Bill tells Craig a childhood story about his sister being abused. Craig attempts to relate by responding that his wife Kelly was also abused when she was in foster care as a kid.
As if the connection hadn’t already crystallized, their next scene together has Bill specifically tell Craig that he was in a foster home with his sister before they were sent to different families. If you’re somehow not all the way there yet, when Craig later asks Bill about the enormous Gemini tattoo covering half of his forearm, Bill flat out says, “I have a twin.”
Discounting a cashier and a pizza delivery guy, the film only features one other person besides Craig’s wife Kelly. That’s her best friend Bianca, who is immediately established as having an affair with Craig. When your movie’s primary pieces can be counted on one hand, maybe don’t spit out a murder motive and supposedly secret link if you want viewers to engage in any sort of intrigue.
It’s a preposterous reveal anyway. Can you imagine having a twin sibling and somehow keeping it a complete secret from everyone, especially your spouse?
Without a meaningful mystery propelling the plot, “The Basement” basically becomes a simple showcase for Jackson Davis, who vaguely brings to mind Joe Pilato mixed with Brad Dourif, to workshop various voices and character types. With succulent roles for them to bite into, it’s easy to see why Davis and Cayleb Long were attracted to the project. I don’t know why anyone else would be.
Even though “The Basement” belongs almost exclusively to Davis and Long, ‘Duchess of DTV Horror’ Mischa Barton receives top billing and prominent poster placement for her four minutes of screentime. Barton stays on autopilot here, mostly filling the function of an extra in insert shots of dialing a phone or looking longingly out a window. Bill/Craig scenes are structured like a theater play, and cutaways to Barton’s concerned wife operate as distracting intermissions while imaginary stagehands reset the titular location for Davis and Long.
“The Basement” looks like it was made for cable, right down to how opening credits come up like they’re following a theme song and commercial break. Co-directors Nathan Ives and Brian M. Conley attempt to interject visual flair such as when a physical fight finds itself filtered with a washed-out strobe effect. Such techniques ultimately can’t counter the TV movie tone.
Conceptual creativity can be seen in the way Craig strategizes how to use Bill’s disorder against him through clever role-play. The movie’s flimsy fiction doesn’t have the depth to completely captivate its audience however. Maybe another cut carried more potential, since end credits list several characters not seen in this version (who are Mia and Carlee?).
If you’ve seen M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” (review here), you’ve already seen a better version of “The Basement.” If you haven’t, and you’re considering this instead, well, you’re better off sticking with “Split.”
Review Score: 45