The Cellar was a pleasant surprise from SXSW. A refreshing take on a classic horror story, the movie is all about building atmosphere. The Irish movie tells a story whose scares sneak up on the audience. AIPT Movie Editor talked with stars Elisha Cuthbert and Eoin Macken along with writer-director Brendan Muldowney about the movie, math, and marketing.
AIPT: My first question is for Brandon. What was your inspiration for The Cellar?
Brendan Muldowney: The inspiration came from a short film. And the inspiration for that short film was watching Robert Wise’s The Haunting one night and it just created this need in me to try and make a short film that was all atmosphere, no gore.
And I suppose, I’ve always loved 70s and 80s horror films as well. So they probably came into it, but there was also a comic strip in a comic I used to read years ago, it was written by some of the two Judge Dredd writers from 2000 AD. It was called The Thirteenth Floor.
When this lift (elevator) didn’t like somebody – it was a sort of like a HAL lift from 2001 – when it didn’t like someone, it would take them to this sort of 13th floor that was a sort of surreal place in as if it was outside of this world. So, I suppose that was really where the inspiration came from.
And I wanted to make a film that was a bit of fun. You know, I wanted my daughter to be able to see it. I wanted to make for once a film that was more, yeah. I mean, look, the thing about the atmosphere and the fun, they sort of go hand in hand, you don’t have to upset people basically is what I was trying to do this time.
AIPT: That leads to my question for Elisha and Eoin. What drew you to the movie?
Elisha Cuthbert: There was a lot of stuff. I mean, one just to be able to go off and shoot a movie during the height of the pandemic was sort of surreal and amazing and special. And there was not a lot of whole lot of people being able to do that. So that was remarkable.
But I thought the film was interesting in the perspective, especially for the female character, because with Kira I felt one connected to the idea of protecting her child and going to, sort of the ends of the earth to find her and being a mother myself, I felt like I knew that fear and wanted to draw on that sort of at this point in my career.
And I was fascinated by the sort of the cleverness and the writing in the genre. And so, I really enjoyed the film when I read it. And then I had wonderful conversations with Brendan and his sort of backstory on the film and how it sort of came about from the short.
Eoin Macken: I’d wanted to work with Brendan anyway for quite a while, but then I read the script and I thought the complexities to it, but also it such a sort of a strong driving narrative. All the characters felt very grounded and very real and had their own stories to them.
And I thought that the relationship between the two of us was a really interesting element to work on, especially from a purely character stand point, playing a father who then kind of is powerless and actually can’t do anything. And it becomes all about what Elisha has to go through in terms of, she ends up being sort of the one is able to solve everything.
And I liked that sense of sort of that inability to actually understand what’s going on and actually do anything from a male perspective. I really wanted to explore that relationship. And, and I just thought that the kind of this script that Brandon had created was felt atmospheric on the page. And we knew what he could do as a filmmaker when he does. So I was really excited to kind of be a part of that, to be honest.
AIPT: You two have great chemistry in the movie. Did that chemistry come naturally or is it something you had to work at?
Cuthbert: Having to sort of be in this bubble during COVID and having to hunker down for two weeks prior in quarantine, I think that lended it itself to some of the stuff that you see on screen.
It was sort of in a way of life imitating the art, because it was us actually on the property where you see the house, we were what a hundred feet from the home that we were filming at. So those two weeks of sort of discovering the property and getting to know one another and really just being isolated there, was exactly like our experience moving into this, this colossal home with this cellar.
AIPT: How did you decide on the villains for The Cellar?
Muldowney: The real simple answer is something that’s not in the film anymore. Is that where I grew up the mountains in Dublin here, there’s a place called The Hellfire Club. And there’s a sort of story. And I’m sure this same story is told all over the world. And it’s where the hooded figure arrived at this gambling club one night and started playing poker. And the Ace of Spades was dropped on the ground. And someone looked under and saw that this person had a hoof, basically a cloven hoof.
This story, always terrified me as a kid. So I suppose I wanted to have some sort of representation of a Satanic or hellish figure that had a hoof. That’s a power there as well, but what drew me to him? He’s pretty cool looking.
AIPT: That’s the best answer right there. Personally, I’ve always thought that math is the work of the devil.
Macken: That should be the tagline, I love it.
AIPT: I found it interesting how math heavy The Cellar is.
Muldowney: I went through lots of different things from Irish mythology. There was, we have this, and I had Druids and Balor, we had lots of Irish sort of stuff in it, but there was at one stage, I went, no, that’s not going to work. And I just went, it has to be related to math. I’m the same as you. Math is not my thing.
And the first thing that popped up in Google was something called evil numbers, which I was fascinated by. I didn’t use them in the film, but you can see already I was going down a rabbit hole. I’m already very interested in quantum physics and things like string theory and stuff. So in a way, I think once something starts to touch on something that you’re already interested in, you naturally gravitate towards it. So I think that’s really where that came from.
Macken: I mean sometimes in horror films once you find out how to solve it or how to defeat the big bad, or how to kind of get out of it, things become a little bit less scary and I thought that was what was so, so terrifying by what you created with The Cellar is the fact that there is this world that essentially you cannot escape from if you’re sucked into it, there’s no kind of way out or around it and no one fully understands it.
Cuthbert: And permission to use math as the devil’s work in future interviews?
Cuthbert: Thank you. So don’t be surprised if you see that soundbite for me.
AIPT: If you can get in on a shirt too, that’d be awesome.
Cuthbert: Yeah, let’s do it.
The Cellar premieres in theaters and on Shudder April 15
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