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Home #Hwoodtimes Girl in the Basement: A harrowing look into the horrors of domestic...

Girl in the Basement: A harrowing look into the horrors of domestic abuse.

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.

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Stefanie Scott in a still from ‘Girl in the Basement’ (Lifetime)

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.

Throughout the film, we are taken back to the halcyon moments of Sara’s brief escape from the clenches of suppressive patriarchy: her first love, her first experiences in the flush of youth, all of which we never expected to be denied, and never in the way that Sara is denied the first 20 years of her adulthood in such a torturous, inhumane and abusive way, at the hands of her father. The unforgivable acts committed upon Sara are the kind we expect from the psychologically disturbed—the insane, psychopathic strangers which we warn our daughters about; those strange men whom we are warned to never be left alone with, to never get in their car, to never accept a drink from. But we would never imagine the perpetrator could be lurking in our own home, let alone be the father of our children.
One fateful afternoon, after graduation, Sara’s mother goes out. Her father requests Sara’s help, so she cuts short a call to her boyfriend. This is the last of the outside world Sara will see for twenty years. As she helps her father into the basement with a heavy box, she passes a mug with the words “world’s greatest dad.” The irony is difficult to digest.
Day one concludes with Sara silently screaming in the sound-proofed basement, hidden from the family’s view by a bookcase. Each passing day is marked on the screen, and with each announcement, we are reminded that this will go on for 7,300 days in total. One cannot process the horror, desperation, vulnerability, pain, and loneliness Sara feels, let alone the physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her father that forces her into motherhood—enduring labor by herself, alone, with no painkillers, and the resulting children she did not ask for by a man she did not consent to relations with. The unimaginable experience of this, combined with the psychological trauma of being imprisoned, abused, and raped, is not an experience that can be adequately expressed in words. It is also a story that demands an extremely gifted cast and crew to convey.
Elisabeth Rohm, Director

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.

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(L-R) Stefanie Scott, Judd Nelson, and Joely Fisher

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.

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Valerie Milano is the well-connected Senior Editor and TV Critic at TheHollywoodTimes.today, a website that aggregates showbiz news curated for, and written by, insiders of the entertainment industry. (@HwoodTimes @TheHollywood.Times) Milano, whose extraordinary talents for networking in the famously tight-clad enclave of Hollywood have placed her at the center of the industry’s top red carpets and events since 1984, heads daily operations of a uniquely accessible, yet carefully targeted publication. For years, Milano sat on the board as a chief organizer of the Television Critics Association’s press tours, held twice a year in Beverly Hills and Pasadena. She has written for Communications Daily, Discover Hollywood, Hollywood Today, Television International, and Video Age International, and contributed to countless other magazines and digests. Valerie works closely with the Human Rights Campaign as a distinguished Fed Club Council Member. She also works with GLSEN, GLAAD, Outfest, NCLR, LAMBDA Legal, and the Desert Aids Project, in addition to donating both time and finances to high-profile nonprofits. She has been an active member of the Los Angeles Press Club for a couple of years and looks forward to the possibility of contributing to the future success of its endeavors. Milano’s passion for meeting people extends from Los Feliz to her favorite getaway, Palm Springs. There, she is a member of the Palm Springs Museum of Art and a prominent Old Las Palmas-area patron.