Elisabeth Röhm's new Lifetime movie "Girl in the Basement" is "a call to action about abuse on a very significant level," the director told TheWrap.
The film stars Judd Nelson as a father who locks his daughter (played by Stefanie Scott) in the basement for 20 years, raping and assaulting her, and even fathering multiple children with her. Meanwhile, her mom and sister live upstairs and believe she ran away to start a new life away from them.
To many, this story might ring a bell. In 2008, Elisabeth Fritzl told Austrian police she had been held captive by her father for 24 years, which resulted in the birth of seven children who remained in captivity with her. While "Girl in the Basement" takes elements from the Fritzl case, Röhm said there were actual multiple stories that inspired the screenplay for her movie.
"For us, there was a lot to take from in terms of backstory and psychological rooting that came from that story," Röhm told TheWrap. "It's a horrible thing to be able to say that this did not just happen once. The film is a call to action to put the spotlight on the monster that lives within any household, who is not confronted and goes with no accountability because the mother or children or the wife is turning a blind eye to behavior that, when it's ceded, can grow into a monster like this. Lifetime has broken boundaries with this movie by telling a story that's a call to action about abuse on a very significant level."
The film is not an easy one to watch. The sexual, physical and verbal abuse are very much the focal points of the film, and that was a conscious decision for Röhm, who is making her directorial debut with "Girl in the Basement."
"I feel like it's important to discuss things that we're afraid to talk about," she said. "Statistically speaking, abuse, incest and all of these horrors that this film explores have been on the rise during COVID. It's the right time to tell this story, not only because there has been more in-home abuse because of the shutdown but also because we need to shine a light on the darkness and we have to eradicate it by bringing it to the surface. I think movies like this bring abuse to the surface, and people can get the help that they need and the support that they need."
Röhm added, "It is also a story of hope and one woman's will to survive. If we can anchor into hope and love and joy, then we can survive and we can find our way out of that prison... the triumph of the human will is what this movie is about."
The film was shot in 14 days, mainly on a stage, while other scenes filmed in the family home took about a week. Röhm said that her background as an actress (she's starred in films like "Joy" and "Bombshell" and TV shows like "Jane the Virgin" and "Law & Order") helped her navigate the difficult scenes with the cast, and her priority was to make the actors feel safe on set, especially during the assault scenes.
"I really listened to Stefanie and Judd because they had such sensitive scenes, and we had to navigate them together," the director explained. "I've been on the other side of the camera, so that helped me navigate. They are professionals. They knew what to ask for and knew how to create boundaries. It's tough stuff, but everyone knew what they got themselves into."
"Girl in the Basement" also stars Joely Fisher and Emily Topper. The film premieres Saturday on Lifetime.