Although director Dean Garris is a new name for me to learn, it is a name that I won’t soon find myself forgetting. After sitting through and reviewing the very accomplished feature length documentary Nathan Davis Still Lives, I was also lucky enough to be sent this short film from the director in order to better acclimate myself to his particular style. While this short shows Garris moving into a more traditional form of cinematic storytelling, this also shows that the director isn’t just a flash in the pan. With Nathan Davis… he showed that he could suck a viewer in based upon his choices in music, the editing of his soundbytes and by creating a nostalgic feeling that most viewers could relate to. With The Man in the Cellar Garris shows that he can manipulate his audience through pure dramatic storytelling. While this isn’t a title that will shock audiences or blow them away based upon pure originality, Garris manages to impress with this "there’s a monster in the basement!" style horror title.
Mona is a very young little girl who is trying to enjoy the peaceful and playful years of her childhood while her parents torment themselves with worry over the bills and the father-figure’s inability to find a job. Unfortunately Mona soon turns her families worries onto herself when she claims to hear voices coming from the cellar. The father, who has a history of mental illness running through his family, seems to be the most worried about this invisible friend named "Luke" that her daughter has recently started talking about. However, are his worries based upon a fear that his daughter may be carrying on a genetic mental illness… or something far more sinister?
The Man in the Cellar is a polished, dramatic and engaging horror short that may not have the most epic or game changing of intentions, but it is most assuredly a solid piece of work. Garris sticks his head out above the rest of the field by producing a horror short that manages to do everything that a good horror short should. He doesn’t skimp on style or quality just because there’s a limited budget, and you can immediately tell that this is a short that had a great deal of time and care invested in it. The narrative progression is also a point of positivity, as this small little short manages to actually pack a few spooky moments along the way! Garris uses music in the same way that a conductor does, by painting the scene with what is necessary and by carrying the audience in an up and down fashion from beginning to end. Although he at times takes the music a fair bit over the top, the dramatic tension he develops through his pacing makes up for the brazen music pounding in your ears. You feel for these characters and you fear whatever it is that lives down inside of this cellar.
Dean Garris shows here that he has a knack for cinematic storytelling, no matter what the tools at his disposal are. I would highly recommend you check it out if you’re anywhere near one of the screenings. You can learn more about the project via the official Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Man-in-the-Cellar/176771905693092 and you can check out the trailer here: http://vimeo.com/20654383