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Review of Lifetime Channel’s horrifying story, ‘The Girl in the Basement,’ inspired by a real-life account

Girl in the basement
Girl in the Basement

THE Girl in the Basement’ is part of Lifetime Channel’s Ripped from the Headlines series of films. It’s loosely based on the real life story of Elizabeth Fritzl in Amsletten, Austria who, at 18, was imprisoned in their cellar by her father Josef Fritzl. She stayed hidden there for 24 years, from 1994 to 2008. She was raped repeatedly and had seven kids.

Girl in the BasementThe U.S. adaptation has been modified. The lead character, Sarah, was imprisoned for 20 years and had three kids. It also chronicles the physical and emotional abuse she suffered in the hands of her obviously deranged dad.

There are so many criminals that now post a genuine threat to ordinary people like us, but what happens when the most dangerous person turns out to be your own father? Sarah (Stefanie Scott) is a 17-year old teener who’s just waiting to finish high school so she can declare her independence from her parents.

She has an overly strict dad, Don (Judd Nelson, the former teen actor of the late 80’s Brat Pack of “Breakfast Club” and “St. Elmo’s Fire” who’s now 61 years old), who is against her having a boyfriend and going to parties. Don discovers that the previous owner of their house has built an underground bunker hidden in their basement and this becomes Sarah’s prison for 20 years while her mother, Irene (Joely Fisher) and an older sister continue to reside upstairs not at all aware of what’s happening beneath them.

Her mom tries her best to search for her, but Don says she has ran away with her boyfriend to Florida. Don has no qualms beating up Sarah each time she resists him. She first gives birth to a daughter, then a son.

When she had a third baby, another boy, Don gets the baby and leaves it on the doorstep of their house for Irene to find. The baby’s basket comes with a note from Sara saying that the boy is her son and she cannot take care of him so she’s giving him away to her mother.

It’s inevitable for the movie to be compared to “Room”, which is also about a young woman held captive by a maniac for seven years. Brie Larson won the 2015 Oscar best actress award for her performance in this film. But since this is primarily a TV movie for the Lifetime Channel with a lesser budget, it will surely suffer in comparison.

Director Elisabeth Rohm makes a fairly decent job of putting the horrifying story together. Since the main target are TV audiences, the level of violent sexual assault is also minimized and less graphic. But the horror of the father’s evil deeds remain undiminished.

Judd Nelson gives a chilling performance as the psychotic Don whose last scene shows him being arrested by cops. In real life, the incestuous father was sentenced to life imprisonment and in truth, he’s been raping his daughter since she was 11 years old.

Stefanie Scott succeeds in getting our sympathy as the helpless victim, specially in the scenes where she gave birth the first time and had to labor and deliver the baby all by herself.

But after 20 years living without sunlight and stuck in a very limited windowless room, she looks exactly the same as when she was still a teenager. We just wish the director had more creativity by using aging make up to show that the years of stressful living and minimal nutrition without adequate health care have taken a toll on her.

Publication Source :    People's Journal
Mario Bautista
Former member: Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Urian)