- 31 Jan 19
Impressively intense psychological thriller.
In Viko Nikci's Cellar Door, the nature of memory, trauma, time and identity all collide and fragment. Karen Hassan plays Aidie, who wakes up in a bathtub, dressed in a 1940s-style dress and soaking wet. As handheld camera shots give close-ups of her confused face, as well as flashes of her surroundings, Nikci invites the audience into Aidie's disorientation, which only becomes more confusing and distressing as she finds herself stumbling through a series of disjointed moments. It's as if she is walking through a dream, or a fractured memory.
Aidie finds herself scrambling to understand the world around her. She enjoys the giddy, intoxicated embrace of a man at a dance only to find herself alone in a church, under the penetrating stare of a nun (Catherine Walker). Writing on her hand appears and disappears. Her body changes. Locations merge. She screams and no-one listens, and begs to see the faces of the people around her - but they avert their gaze.
Is Aidie losing her mind, or sense of time, or both?
This is Nikci's directorial debut, and stylistically, he's a real talent, using lighting, cinematography, props and frenetic editing to create a sense of fragmentation and instability. Focusing primarily on close-ups and tightly framed shots, he deliberately eschews any geographical or referential anchoring. This creates a simultaneous sense of claustrophobia and dread, as Aidie and the audience become locked in a confusing reality, with no sense of what cruelties await.
And there are cruelties. As religious figures, medical professionals and unknown men and women drift in and out of Aidie's existence, inflicting harm or hissing urgent instructions to her, we don't know who to trust. But it soon becomes clear that a tragedy has been inflicted upon her, one she's desperately trying to right.
As narrative strands recur to create a sense of déjà vu, the film is inherently repetitive, which occasionally slows it momentum. Hassan's commitment never wavers, however, and a nuanced reveal shows how carefully Nikci has considered his themes of abuse and memory. Aidie's trauma is distinctly Irish, which adds a crushing weight to its impact.
More an immersive experience than a film to passively watch, the deliberately splintered nature of Cellar Door may be off-putting to some. However, it does showcase Nikci's unique vision, and marks him out as a director to watch.