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Review: Cellar Door

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- Viko Nikci's second feature is certainly a noteworthy experimental thriller, but viewing it requires considerable attentiveness and patience

Review: Cellar Door
Karen Hassan in Cellar Door

Viko Nikci's Cellar Door was released in Irish cinemas on 25 January, after successfully being premiered at the 30th Galway Film Fleadh last summer. This is the director's second film, following his debut feature, a documentary entitled Coming Home. That movie, released in 2014 and supported by the erstwhile Irish Film Board, revolved around the life of Angel Cordero, a wrongly convicted father who comes home after 13 years in prison only to discover that his real battle will be building a relationship with his daughter. Family, loss and trauma are once again at the heart of Nikci's work in Cellar Door, though placed in a different setting and imbued with new narrative purposes.

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Cellar Door's story, penned in its entirety by the director himself, follows – in a disorientating and fragmentary manner – the vicissitudes of a young woman called Aidie (Karen Hassan), who believes that she has given birth to a child who has been taken away from her by a priest (Mark O'Halloran) and a nun (Catherine Walker). The first scene clearly sets out the film's main themes and its style; in fact, the narrative opens with Aidie awakening in a bath, dazed and incapable of remembering what has just happened to her, followed by a few brief glimpses of her past. Viewers will then see Aidie struggling to unearth the truth and repeatedly re-visiting years gone by. Her exploration of space and time has an enjoyable dream-like, gloomy feel to it, and it is effectively conveyed thanks to the excellent editing work, again courtesy of Nikci. Even though her journey is fairly demanding to follow, especially in the first few sequences, Hassan's commendable performance rewards dedicated viewers by painting a skilful portrait of a tortured young woman, shaken violently by her confused memories but nonetheless extremely determined to press on with her search.

Nikci's Cellar Door is a challenging but satisfying cinematic experience, difficult to categorise both visually and narratively, but perhaps perched at a crossroads between the horror, drama, thriller and experimental genres. Moreover, the score and visuals are powerful and serve the director's vision well: the cinematography was entrusted to Robert Flood, working on his first fiction feature as a DoP and on set again with Nikci following the shoot for Coming Home, while the music was composed by Ray Harman, a veteran of Irish cinema (Shooting the Mafia [+see also:
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). Altogether, the film is a very promising piece, which bodes well for the director's future fiction work. It would be interesting to see Nikci explore a new genre (or simply a new story) with the same creative courage and attention to detail, but pursuing a better balance between the plot's deliberate complexity and the capacity to please the audience. At times, for instance, the movie's intricate construction may have benefited from sparing the viewer some unnecessary repetitions.

Cellar Door was produced by Viko Nikci, David CollinsLaura McNicholas and John Wallace for Irish firms Samson Films and Welcome Home Pictures. Samson Films is also in charge of its international theatrical distribution.

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