Dane and Lucas move to a small, quiet town with their mother. Quiet, that is, until the boys discover a mysterious trap door in their new basement which leads to terrors they never imagined, but know all too well.
Joe Dante basically updates “The Gate” with this film, replacing miniature demons with our own imagined fears. The story isn’t particularly novel, but the set-up is brooding and ominous and Dante’s expert hand somehow makes the whole thing fresh and suspenseful. The acting is a bit hit and miss, as is so often the case when kids are involved (the older brother is particularly wooden) and the conclusion isn’t particularly satisfying – but it’s not bad and the trip itself is really good. The scares are paced well – there’s a sense of building dread that always seems just about ready to burst, without ever becoming overwhelming. It’s creepy and atmospheric (from the ominous, relentless fan churning away in the basement window to the creepy clown doll) as well as scary rather than horrifying. Even the finale, which failed to deliver on some of the promise of the rest of the film, gets points for a spectacularly grim set as the backdrop.
As a “teen scream”, the movie works perfectly – just scary enough and without the gore and other objectionable elements. The conclusions, for all its warts, is dark and disturbing (if a bit abrupt) and suits the general tenor of the film well – what it lacks in power, it makes up for in style.