Brendan Muldowney plays with tropes in ‘The Cellar’

(L-R) Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady and Elisha Cuthbert in the horror film, THE CELLAR, a SHUDDER /RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of SHUDDER / RLJE Films.
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Writer/Director Brendan Muldowney (Pilgrimage, Love Eternal) reminds us just how scary basements are with his new horror film, The Cellar.

Keira Woods’ (Elisha Cuthbert) daughter mysteriously vanishes in the cellar of their new house. She soon discovers there is an ancient and powerful entity controlling their home that she will have to face or risk losing her family’s souls forever. The Cellar is a love letter to the type of horror that eschews gore for atmosphere and tension. Its influences are rooted in classics such as The Haunting and The Innocents. It also has a keen regard for J-Horror and K-Horror films such as Ringu, The Grudge and A Tale Of Two Sisters and is not afraid to pay homage to a pulp classic –Final Destination.

Check out my interview with Brendan!

Where did you get the idea for this story?

Brendan: It came from a short film that I made in 2004. It was a really successful short for us. It won Best Short that the city’s Fantastic Film Festival, which was for hardcore horror audiences, and I think in the same month, it won Best Short at the New York International Children’s Film Festival and it went on to win many more awards in the genre festivals and in children’s film festivals. So we realized that it was so broad that there was something special about it, and yeah, that’s where that’s where it started. Someone else had it on YouTube for years and then took it down, but I used to look at the comments and I’d see a lot of people say, ‘what happens next?’ It’s taught in a lot of schools and I saw just recently, I saw a school in Barcelona using these story blocks, and they were coming up with an alternative, not even alternative endings, but what happens afterwards. So, you know, the real genesis, I suppose, would have been how successful and how broad an audience it has, and then this idea where people were saying, ‘I’d love to know what happens next.’ But I’ve been trying versions of this since 2007. 

The fear of cellars seems to be pretty common. Was that kind of where you were going with it?

Brendan: Well, there’s two things there. One is that it’s the sort of film that is playing with tropes. It’s sort of, you know, it is a fun movie, so it’s kind of playing with standard horror tropes. And the other is that when I was a kid, in one of the houses we lived in, I don’t even know if we had heating, there was a fire, and I had to go down to this coal cellar. I didn’t like it one bit. That definitely kept some memories for me.

The house that the movie takes place in was really creepy, but it was really beautiful at the same time. Did you film in an actual house?

Brendan: Yeah, that was a house in Roscommon county in Ireland. One of our financiers is the WRAP Fund in Ireland, which supports films that are shot in the west and there’s about six or seven counties in the west of Ireland. So they pointed us towards Roscommon as a county that wasn’t getting enough love, basically. So we looked at about 10 houses in Roscommon. I was looking for a house with a long corridor with a door at the end and I found the closest in this house. We had to do a bit of building, the cellar was built as a set and the cellar door was a set as well. But the house itself had, when I walked in it had this big open hallway with an open staircase. It’s just beautiful.

Abby Fitz in the horror film, THE CELLAR, a SHUDDER /RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of SHUDDER / RLJE Films.
Another thing that I found to be very creepy with this movie as well was the counting on what kind of inspired the use of numbers over and over again.

Brendan: Well, there was a comic I used to read when I was younger, it wasn’t a comic, it was a strip in the comic called “The 13th Floor” written by to “Judge Dredd” authors from 2000 AD. It was about this elevator in a tower block set in the future. So this elevator was like a computer, it was like Hal from 2001 A Space Odyssey, it could talk. And this tower block had been built without the 13th floor because of superstition. This elevator was friendly with the residents but if there was someone harassing the residents or dealing drugs, the elevator had the ability to take them to this alternate dimension on the 13th floor. I always remember in the lift you’d see the numbers counting up and it would just go to the number 13 and they’d be like, ‘what? Where are we going?’And the door would open and it would be some sort of terrible place. So in a way, I’m sure that’s where it came from.

What was it like working with the cast?

Brendan: It was a dream. They’re brilliant and they were really supportive. I’d known Eoin Macken since my first feature, Savage, which is going back 14 years or something so it was great to work with him in a lead role now because when I was working with him he was just starting out. And his agent is also Elisha’s agent, so suddenly I was on a zoom call with Elisha and she was saying everything that I felt about the character. And, over here, it was amazing because of COVID, they had to quarantine for two weeks and I was living in a cottage beside the two of them so we were in to hang out and talk. It was a low budget shoot with a lot of time constraints and a bit of time pressure, so to have people who were so supportive and able to nail takes in one go was just brilliant.

Of course this film was populated with some of the best actors in Ireland, like character actors, theater actors and then the two young actors who play the kids were found through auditions. We were very lucky with the cast. 

What was your favorite part of filming this movie?

Brendan: The end scene. It was in a big green screen studio with a lot of extras. Now, obviously, there’s stress involved there because of COVID, but because it was a green screen, I had a supervisor with me, so I didn’t have to worry about a lot of stuff. But also, my girlfriend and my daughter had come down and I hadn’t seen them because we were quarantined, I hadn’t seen them for five weeks. My girlfriend was actually in the film as one of the extras and that day we didn’t run out of time and it was also the second to last day, so I knew the end was in sight. So that would be my favorite thing. 

What’s something that you hope your audience takes away from watching the movie?

Brendan: You know, it’s not like a movie that I’ve made in the past where I have some sort of message or meaning or theme that I’m discussing. It’s a fun roller coaster movie, it’s a theme park movie. If they have fun, that’s all I’m looking for. 

Is there anything else that you would like to add about your movie The Cellar?

Brendan: It’s out April 15 on Shudder exclusively, and in theaters. RLJE Films are releasing it and I’m not sure how many screens or where. And I think that after an exclusive run for a while, it’s going to be out on iTunes as well, so it’ll be quite accessible. But I think on DVD as well with a commentary and with the short film and the commentary for the short film, and the making of the visual effects. So there’s quite a lot on the DVD.

Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady in the horror film, THE CELLAR, a SHUDDER /RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of SHUDDER / RLJE Films.
The Cellar will be in select theaters and streaming on Shudder April 15.