By Valerie Milano
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 2/27/21 -The opening scenes of Girl in the Basement set the precedent for this film: dark, tense, and nail-biting. A female sits in the back seat of a car with a child who is struggling to breathe, as this nerve-wracking journey already has us on the edge of our seats even before the horrifying circumstances are revealed to us. We immediately know something is amiss when they reach the hospital and the male who is accompanying the female mutters “not a word.” We watch with nervous anticipation as the female, who we assume to be the young girl’s mother, presses up against the door of the hospital room, where her daughter flatlines, the mother’s face drained and gaunt as she watches, helpless, through the glass.
Then, like being woken from a bad dream, we are taken back 20 years earlier. The female, Sara, is youthful in comparison to the sullen-faced woman we just witnessed rush her daughter to the hospital. She is young and full of teenage attitude, wanting to go to a party. Her mother at first permits it, but her father, whom we instantly identify as an unnerving, domineering despot, forbids her to go. Sara rebels, and sneaks off to the party, where she dances carefree with her boyfriend, making plans for their future. When her parents discover she’s not in her room, her father mutters through clenched teeth, “She’s a problem.” The problem, we are to find out, is not Sara, but Don, her father.
Directed by Elisabeth Rohm, and written by Manu Boyer, Leslie Greif, and Barbara Marshall, this incredibly challenging and distressing story is executed with gritty perfection. The cast more than delivers—the tension, misery, fear, and grueling agony of Sara is portrayed flawlessly and with terrifying accuracy by Stefanie Scott (Insidious: Chapter 3). Don, her father, is masterfully portrayed by Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club); we watch in disbelief as his Jekyll and Hyde personality flips seamlessly from a strict but respectable father into a brutal abuser and rapist. The roles of Sara and Don present major challenges for both actors; the inconceivable torture experienced by Sara, and a man capable of such sickening crimes. Scott’s performance is heartbreaking, and Nelson’s sends shivers down the spine; his portrayal of a dark character who committed such abominable acts, yet coolly managed to keep them so well hidden beneath the surface that no neighbor or family member could ever have suspected him of such horrors, is as unimaginable as to how Sara could have survived them.
Gripping, frightening, excruciating, and extremely difficult to watch, Girl in the Basement is an exemplary example in Lifetime’s Ripped from The Headlines series. Highly recommended—but not for the faint of heart.