When you first watch Shudder original film The Cellar, you will be struck by how atmospheric it is and how the audience is included in the narrative by looking through the eyes of Elisha Cuthbert’s character, Keira Woods. Directed by Brendan Muldowney, who is known for films such as Pilgrimage, The Cellar is a fascinating look at horror through the eyes of a mother fighting for her family. Recently, Supanova had the chance to sit down with Brendan Muldowney and discuss the film.
“I always say that the short film that it’s based on and in turn the feature, is inspired heavily by Robert Wise’s The Haunting,” he begins, “and I always want to say The Innocents, but there’s no direct homage, it’s just a feeling that The Innocents gives, so I never mention it. Those two films, I watched them just before I made The Cellar, I watched them back-to-back with my daughter.”
The film tells the story of Keira Woods, whose daughter mysteriously vanishes in the cellar of their new house in the country. Keira 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 based on a 2004 short film The 10 Steps and Muldowney goes into detail on what inspired both of these films.
“The short film was inspired by a feeling of wanting to make a horror film that was about atmosphere without gore, you know, and just subvert some of the tropes, or use tropes in a different way,” he explains.
“So I just wanted to do something like that. I was a real fan of The Haunting and The Innocents and I wanted to capture that feeling and then there was a comic I used to read when I was younger. The comic strip was called The 13th Floor. It was in the future, I think, and a sort of like Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey would talk to you.
“The tower block had been built without a 13th floor. So the lift would take people it didn’t like to the 13th floor. That was really the idea there. There is a homage in the film to The 13th Floor and I don’t want to give away spoilers, but you can definitely see the homage there.”
One of the elements that set The Cellar apart from other horror movies is the overarching theme of mathematics. Muldowney explains where this idea came from.
“When I was trying to develop the script, I had the beats, I had the ending, I had the short film which was sort of the opening and I tried many different versions of the short film being extended, it being a prologue or whatever,” he tells.
“The thing is I had the plot beats, the thing I needed to invent was the characters and that took a while because, with script editing and financiers, you need to nail that stuff, even though you’re walking around going I’ve got a great plot.
“In the short film, there’s no mythology, it’s just based on Judeo-Christian myths like the devil and hell. So I needed to come up with something different. It went through many different versions of mythology, at one stage I had druids, and Balor, the one-eyed king of the Fomorians which is Irish mythology.
“So I had all sorts of stuff, but then one day I went, you know what, the counting in the short film is so strong, it should continue with this and be mathematically based. The minute I started thinking in a mathematical way, it tapped into something else I’m interested in, quantum physics.
“I’m bad at maths and quantum physics makes my head spin but I do enjoy reading it; I get something out of it, it replaces religion for me. I believe maths is more than just numbers, I believe it’s like a language that describes things that are very profound to us in the universe.”
There are two moments in the film which resonated particularly with Muldowney and Cuthbert, and without spoilers, he expands on the two moments.
“One of them is one of my favourite moments and the other is Elisha’s favourite moment. She loves when the door bursts open, and she saw something I didn’t, she sees her character who’s willing to face anything, that’s why she loves that moment. I love the other moment because I used to call it when we were in prep and even in post, the slowest jump scare ever made. Even though it’s not technically a jump scare, it’s using the jump scare tropes, and playing with how the eyes get accustomed to the dark.”
The Cellar is a uniquely beautiful film, full of charm and heart-wrenching moments. The ending alone is sure to stay with people long after the credits roll.
‘The Cellar’ is now streaming via Shudder