I don't get basements. Finished, unfinished, mildewed or bleached, boiler room to laundry room to teenage lair to adult den, basements are repositories of stillness and menace. Even the finished ones, with the mini bar in the corner and low shag carpet licking the cheap veneer baseboards and the bathroom chock full of kitschy bathroom crap and a toilet that needs plunging twice a week. Especially the finished basement, where the polyvinyl armature of civilization suffers the expeditious sowbug. Nothing dispels the minor charm of a basement den like the sight of a roach making a dash for the corner. Basements are graves that for some reason we have chosen to turn into rec rooms, fine and private places where an embrace is still an option. I don't get why we continue to create homes that include, along with the master bedroom and en suite tub, a sinkhole of angst. Maybe it's a trade-off: we now have so much casual luxury that we can afford an Egyptian-style tomb in our very own home, packed full of the little rewards that make life easy.
Basements are graves and graves are shuttles to the next world. Once they were boats that bobbed along to the far bank of the Styx. The last century turned them into spaceships arcing up to heaven or ferrying up through the clouds on a ramp of light. That's why movie aliens are so unremittingly hostile to us these days. They're the unwanted dead, re-animated and ugly and bent on returning their deaths to us from the celestial heaven we've dreamt up. Remember Close Encounters? Those aliens were children, emissaries of the future showing up with a positive message and a five-note phat hook for the baby boomers. Not a basement in sight. But War of the Worlds - that movie's all ours. That belongs to the generation that grew up in a basement, surfing channels and playing video games, sneaking in boys or girls and getting hammered, all the while growing to fit the dimensions of those rooms, accumulating toxins in the gills. We're ready for a movie where, when those aliens come, we run screaming and barricade ourselves in a choice basement. And what a surprise it is when the aliens get in.