March 11, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Dustin Cook
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the drama/thriller “I Hate the Man in My Basement” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latino and African American representation), mostly representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A widower has imprisoned a man his basement.
Culture Audience: This movie will appeal primarily to people who like to discover suspenseful independent movies that are compelling character studies rather than gory revenge thrillers.
It won’t be a shock to find out the full reason why seemingly mild-mannered Claude Vaughn (played by Chris Marquette) is secretly imprisoning a man in his basement. The details are revealed about two-thirds of the way into the film. But it’s easy to figure out that revenge is the motive, once it’s established early on in the film that Claude is a lonely widower who’s grieving over his wife’s death, which happened eight months before this story takes place.
Claude, who’s in his 30s, is a salesman at a nondescript office in an unnamed U.S. city. His prisoner is a young man named Logan Kirby (played by Manny Montana), who’s kept chained to the basement by his neck. Claude has such animosity toward Logan that he won’t let Logan finish talking when Logan tells Claude in a pleading voice that he’s sorry and “I didn’t mean to do it.” When Logan still tries to talk, Claude reacts by punching Logan repeatedly in the face. And when Claude gives Logan food, he shoves the food toward Logan on a plate like someone would shove food toward a despised person with a contagious disease.
At work, Claude gives the appearance that he’s trying to move on with his life since his wife’s death. (How she died is revealed later in the movie.) His obnoxious and nosy co-worker Riley (played by Jeffrey Doornbos) sets Claude up on a blind date, so that they can go double dating with Riley and his wife. Claude is reluctant but gives in because Riley is so persistent.
Riley is the type of married guy who wants to hear details of his single co-workers’ love lives. He’s upfront in telling Claude that he thinks it’s time for Claude to get back into the dating scene. And Riley says he chose the blind date for Claude because she came across as “horny” and willing to do whatever.
The date is for a private salsa-dancing class. When Claude first meets his blind date—a chatty and needy redhead named Soria (played by Trisha LaFache)—she immediately gives him a big hug and says in a sympathetic voice, “I’m sorry,” to indicate that she’s aware that his wife has died. But when they get to the small dance studio, Claude and the dance instructor Kyra (played by Nora-Jane Noone) look at each other in a way that makes it obvious that they’re immediately attracted to each other.
Soria is oblivious though, and when she sprains her ankle during the dance lesson, the date is cut short. While Claude drives Soria back to her place, she blurts out that she hasn’t had much luck in her love life lately, because the last three guys she dated were married, but she didn’t know they were married until it was too late. Claude helps Soria into her home, and she immediately lunges at him to plant an aggressive kiss on Claude. He’s so freaked out that he pushes her off and runs out the door.
However, that doesn’t mean he’s not ready to date someone. He drives by Kyra’s dance studio and is terrified to see that she’s outside and has noticed his car drive by, so he ducks down, hoping that she didn’t see him. When this happens again on another day, she signals to Claude to come over.
At first, Claude awkwardly denies that he’d done a drive-by on another day, but then he admits it when it’s clear that Kyra is interested in Claude. She’s funny, sarcastic and witty. And she can also see that he’s very nervous. It isn’t until Kyra says to Claude that she was wondering when he was going to ask her out on a date that he gets up the nerve to ask her if she would be interested in having dinner with him sometime. Of course, she says yes.
Claude has moments of being socially awkward, uptight and emotionally aloof. On his first date with Kyra (at a fast-food Asian restaurant), he finds that her sense of humor makes him feel more comfortable. She opens up and tells him that she’s divorced (she says that she was married for less than a year to a man who was a compulsive masturbator), while Claude tells her that he’s a widower. Kyra thinks he’s joking at first, but is mortified when she realizes that he’s telling the truth. (She doesn’t ask Claude how his wife died.)
After that first date, Claude comes home and tearfully tells his prisoner Logan in one of the movie’s best scenes: “I had a date tonight and I enjoyed it and I feel awful.” It’s a turning point for Claude, because after being numb from grief, he’s starting to possibly feel love again—and it scares and confuses Claude.
Because Claude is starting to feel more vulnerable and human, he begins to treat Logan a little better. He buys Logan better-quality food. (Instead of frozen meals, he starts giving Claude fresh meals.) And later on in the story, he even gives Logan a book to read so his prisoner won’t be bored.
At different points in the story, viewers also find out that Claude has been visiting a police detective named Detective McGee (played by Cyrus Farmer) under the pretense of trying to help find the man whom Claude has been secretly keeping as a prisoner. Based on what McGee says, the man was a low-life criminal who disappeared, which the detective doesn’t find too surprising because of the guy’s dangerous lifestyle. Although it’s not shown in the movie, based on the conversation that McGee has with Claude, he’s become irritated with Claude for being a little too eager to help find this missing person. He tells Claude to let it go and that the police will handle the investigation.
Meanwhile, Claude ends up visiting Logan’s mother, Molly Kirby (played by Robin Dale Meyers), a hard-edged cynic who lives in a trailer. At first, she thinks he’s a detective, but he tells her he’s not. Based on what she tells Claude (“I wasn’t the most nurturing of mothers”), she’s neither surprised nor too concerned that her son Logan has disappeared. As for Logan’s father, Molly laughs when she tells Claude that Logan’s father isn’t in their lives and compares her situation to the women who go on the “Maury” talk show to get paternity tests done. As they near the end of the conversation, Molly asks Claude who he is, and he just tells her his first name.
The reason for Claude trying to insert himself into this missing-person investigation is likely to find out how much information the police might know. But the way it’s portrayed in the movie, it’s clear that he also feels a certain amount of guilt for being responsible for this disappearance.
However, Claude has a ruthless side too, because when he’s alone in his office, he’s shown talking on the phone to clients in an abusive and condescending manner. It’s a psychological tactic he uses to make the clients fear him so he can get what he wants from them. It’s also a look at a well-hidden side to his personality that would be capable of kidnapping and torturing a man.
As the mysterious prisoner Logan Kirby, actor Montana is a standout in the cast. Whatever horrible things that Logan did in his past, Montana brings depth and humanity to the role. He’s able to portray in subtle ways that during his imprisonment, Logan goes on his own journey of painful introspection about his actions and how he reached this point in his life.
Claude also has his own type of reckoning, as he reaches an emotional crisis by hiding this dark secret while unexpectedly entering into this new relationship with Kyra that is bringing some light into his life. The three actors at the center of this story (Marquette, Montana and Noone) do a very good job at portraying their characters. Noone’s portrayal of Kyra brings a lot of comic relief to the film, since Kyra has a sardonic-but-endearing sense of humor.
“I Hate the Man in My Basement” (written and directed by Dustin Cook) is Cook’s first feature-length movie. It’s an intense story that’s worth seeking out if you like movies that explore the dark sides of humanity. Cook has a lot of great potential, considering that the quality of this low-budget indie film surpasses a lot of mindless movies that are released with considerably larger budgets.
If you know a lot about true crime cases where people commit heinous acts and keep terrible secrets, it’s entirely believable how this movie’s characters deal with legal and ethical dilemmas. Although many people might think to themselves that they would never act that way, the moral of the story is that people don’t really know what extreme things they might do until they’re pushed to the edge.
Gravitas Ventures released “I Hate the Man in My Basement” on digital and VOD on March 9, 2020.