Story: Sarah (Stefanie Scott) is about to turn eighteen and her birthday can’t come soon enough, as she wants out of her controlling father’s house as soon as possible. Her father Don (Judd Nelson) runs a strict household and within those walls, he considers his rules to be the law. He is critical of how she looks and acts, while he holds immense contempt to her relationship with her boyfriend, though she still sneaks around to see him. If she wants to see him at all, she has to be secretive about it, since Don locks her in her bedroom at night. When he finds out she has snuck out again, Don is irate and after some sadistic plotting, he makes a plan to keep Sarah under control. He has her help him take a container inside their basement, then he traps her inside and thanks to the nature of the basement, which used to be a bomb shelter, no one can hear her screaming for help. Will she be trapped inside this basement forever and what kind of sick plan does Don have in mind?
Entertainment Value: As insane as this premise is, Girl in the Basement could be based on countless stories that run similar to this one, just varied in how long the abductions lasted. This was likely most inspired by the case of Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter Elisabeth for over two decades below the family home. If you’re familiar with the Fritzl case, you’ll notice a lot of similarities and you’ll know how things play out here. But even if you go in with that knowledge, Girl in the Basement will keep your attention thanks to a super creepy atmosphere that makes this feel much, much darker than Lifetime’s typical thrillers. This isn’t a dialed up thriller at all, in fact this is a deliberate, slow burn type narrative, one with a relaxed, but tense pace. Of course, the material is hard to watch, especially knowing it was based on real life events and while Lifetime’s limitations keep things from being graphic, this is still a dark, even sadistic experience. I’d recommend this to anyone who appreciates Lifetime thrillers, dark dramas, or true crime stories.
Judd Nelson is the monstrous father in Girl in the Basement, in a very creepy, unsettling performance that radiates menace. I wasn’t sure how well Nelson would do, as I haven’t seen him in many serious, dark roles like this one, but he delivers. Nelson is effective as someone who puts up a barely contained front, just enough to keep attention off his actions, but also that weird vibe that lets you know there’s something off about this person. He does dial up a little at times, but it makes sense, as Don is clearly a untreated, mentally ill individual, even if he has adapted to seem functional. I can see why some called his work here wooden or stiff, but I think it works for the character, as there’s little emotion and a controlled exterior, hence the careful presence. Stefanie Scott is also great in what had to be a difficult role, but she really brings Sarah to life and gives her real soul. The cast also includes Joely Fisher, Emily Topper, and Jake Nuttall.