Features and Columns · Movies

What Lies Beneath: The Metaphorical Power of the Basement

If I were a character in a movie I simply would not go into the basement.
Parasite Basement
By  · Published on December 9th, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video on why basements are such a terrifying cinematic space.

The only thing worse than having to go down into a basement is watching someone else do it in a movie.

What unseen terrors lie beneath unassuming floorboards and cellar doors? When it comes to basements, hell knows no bounds! You could be greeted by the infernal jaws of a furnace, like poor Kevin McCallister in Home Alone. Your exposed ankles might get snatched like Ash’s in Evil Dead II. Or you could stumble in the dark into a putrid lair like in The Silence of the Lambs.

Now, not all on-screen basements are evil. There are plenty of underground spaces that feel — dare I say it — safe and comfy. Or at least safe from harm. But, beneath it all, be it a man cave or a mass grave, all basements have one thing in common: they are pressure cookers of story, stakes, and symbolism.

Out of sight and out of mind, basements can be a metaphorically subconscious space: a literally repressed area of the home where you can be vulnerable, bury your trauma, or squirrel away dark secrets. They can blur the line between a refuge and a prison. And they can physically manifest the stratification of class. As the video essay below argues, basements derive their power not from the dark, but in bringing the unseen, uncomfortable, and unacknowledged to light.

Watch “Why Are Basements Scary? Underground Spaces in Movies and TV“:

Who made this?

This video essay comes courtesy of Now You See It, a YouTube channel dedicated to film analysis searching for meaning in unexpected places. You can follow Now You See It on YouTube and check out their back catalog here. Now You See It is run by Virginia-based software engineer Jack Nugent, whom you can follow on Twitter here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.