'Girl in the Basement' Review: Disturbing film inspired by real-life sexual assault is not for the faint-hearted
'Girl in the Basement' is based on several real-life abduction and imprisonment stories so watch only if true crime is a genre you appreciate
Lifetime's 'Girl in the Basement' begins with Judd Nelson's character Don, a disturbed and domineering father driving his daughter and his grandchild to the hospital. His grandchild is seen gasping for breath, rather symobolically, since she, her mother and her brother have been trapped in a basement for decades by her grandfather who is also her father.
The film then goes back in time to show us what seems like a normal suburban family on the outside. But it doesn't take long to see that the father Don has some deep rooted issues of rage. While his wife and older daughter think better of standing up to him, his younger daughter Sara refuses to back down.
One day when he has had enough of her so-called disrespect, Don calls Sara to the basement under the guise of needing help. He then traps her in a converted bomb shelter in the basement which only remains ventilated if he chooses it to be.
Don then tells Sara's mother and sister that she has run away with her boyfriend, while he lies to her boyfriend saying she has run off with another man. It seems a little implausible that everyone believes Don's take on Sara's disappearance especially considering his violent tendencies. Stefanie Scott is extremely impressive as Sara, as her character graph not only has to encompass her as a vibrant young teenager but also as a battered mother of two teenagers.
However, she manages to be extremely convincing at all stages of her character. She also mananges to retain a certain quiet determination in her character even at her most broken which is to be appreciated.
Judd Nelson's portrayal of Don can sometimes be a touch over the top, especially in comparison to the subtlety that Stefanie Scott brings to the role. But he, however, does do a convincing job of portraying the rage that always seems to be close to the surface.
Joely Fisher is more known for her comic roles and it is a little jarring to see her in a role like this. The way her character is written is also rather flimsy. It is difficult to believe that a mother would let so many years go by without making a concerted effort to find her daughter. All Sara's mother seems to do is occasionally pipe up and ask her husband if he wonders what happened to their daughter.
It is interesting and rather disturbing to see how Sara realises that the only way to survive and for her children to survive is to keep Don happy. She bears four children and while the first two live in the basement with her, her third child Thomas is sent upstairs to live. This is done by Don leaving Thomas in a basket on the doorstep for his wife to find. The fourth child that Sara bears dies in childbirth.
While Don is cruel to his first two children with Sara, he treats Thomas like the son he's never had. It is only in his interactions with Thomas that we see some glimpses of humanity. In fact it is only by taking Thomas' name and Sara asking if Don will let Thomas' sister die, that Don agrees to take Sara and her daughter to the hospital.
This is where we see them at the start of 'Girl in the Basement'. At the hospital Sara then manages to escape from Don and get the help she needs. Don is then sent away to prison and Sara, her mother and sister are reunited.
'Girl in the Basement' does have some truly thrilling moments, especially the several times Sara tries to escape. When she finally does manage to escape Don's clutches it makes for great cinema. However, this is a dark and disturbing film particularly because it has been inspired by several real-life incidents of abduction, sexual assault and imprisonment stories.
'Girl in the Basement' seems to have the most parallels with the Elisabeth Fritzl case. Fritzl spent 24 years locked up by her father Josef in the cellar under their Austrian home and gave birth to seven of their children. So watch this only if true crime is a genre you appreciate.
'Girl in the Basement' premieres on February 28 at 8 pm ET/PT on Lifetime Canada and airs in the US on February 27 on Lifetime.