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Exclusive Interview: The director and stars of the Irish haunted-house chiller “THE CELLAR,” Part Two

Wednesday, April 13, 2022 | Interviews

By MICHAEL GINGOLD

Continuing our chat with writer/director Brendan Muldowney and actors Elisha Cuthbert and Eoin Macken that began here, we delve deeper into THE CELLAR, coming to theaters from RLJE Films and streaming on Shudder beginning this Friday, April 15. The movie casts Cuthbert (HOUSE OF WAX, CAPTIVITY) and Macken (A HOLE IN THE GROUND, THE FOREST) as Keira and Brian Woods, who no sooner have moved into an ominous mansion in the Irish countryside than their teenage daughter Ellie (Abby Fitz) vanishes after venturing into the basement. Muldowney and his team shot THE CELLAR at an expansive house in County Roscommon, Ireland, which apparently had its share of real creepy ambience…

Did you live in that house while you were filming there?

BRENDAN MULDOWNEY: Well, myself, Eoin and Elisha stayed in what I suppose you would call holiday cottages that were about 100 yards down from the house.

ELISHA CUTHBERT: And apparently, they were built on top of a sort of hidden church, which…I don’t know why anyone had to tell me that. That was inappropriate!

EOIN MACKEN: Remember the cows, when they were making all the crazy noises at nighttime and the mist was rolling in?

CUTHBERT: It definitely added to the vibes and the ambience of this movie.

MACKEN: Brendan, you chose a place that was basically a horror film in itself [laughs].

MULDOWNEY: But look, it worked out brilliantly, and also, I mentioned the advertising agency [where Keira and Brian work], and we were able to get into Roscommon County Council, which had an amazing building, so I have to say I was very pleased with all the locations.

Did anyone encounter anything spooky while working in the house?

MULDOWNEY: Yep! I think Eoin knows this story more than I do…

MACKEN: Well, I kind of happen to know the people who actually own that location through some other people, and they don’t really want anyone to tell the stories about it, because it’s definitely haunted! [Everyone laughs]

CUTHBERT: That’s really funny, I mean, you had some experiences, but I have to say, I’ll be the devil’s advocate here for the people who own the property. Going into it, we had to quarantine for two weeks before we started filming, so we were in these cottages by ourselves, secluded for a while without anyone around, and I thought, “This is going to be terrifying.” I can’t remember the last time I was secluded like that in my life, especially with a child, you know? But I actually had an amazing experience and got a ton of rest.

MACKEN: I don’t know how we did it!

CUTHBERT: I slept like a baby!

MACKEN: See, Elisha’s basically on the marketing team for the house, and I found it terrifying. That place had a really weird energy, a really weird vibe; there were all these strange paintings on the walls, all this old artwork.

MULDOWNEY: Well, we did clear a lot of stuff out. There was a lot of antiques; there were old harps, there was a St. Patrick’s flag or something, a lot of very expensive antiques. I do know, though, that if you go to Tripadvisor, because it is a guest house, it gets very high marks and is supposed to be a beautiful place to stay. We will talk about the fact that there’s a private chapel in there, which was basically hidden away 100 years ago.

CUTHBERT: Like I said, I don’t know why anyone told us about that. That was scary!

How about creating and working on the cellar set, especially for the climactic scenes?

MACKEN: Well, that place wasn’t haunted, that place was fine!

MULDOWNEY: Where we shot the cellar was freezing cold, is all I remember. And the climactic scenes were not shot in there; some of that was shot in actual underground tunnels.

CUTHBERT: Yeah, these real catacombs.

MULDOWNEY: That was very interesting, I have to say! I do remember looking at you once, Elisha, during it, when there was water dripping from the ceiling on us, and I was freezing cold, saying, “You’ll be laughing about this in two weeks’ time!”

CUTHBERT: I still stand by my decision to wear just a tank top in there, because it looks great. But yeah, at the time, Brendan was like, “Are you sure about this?” And I was like, “You know what, we’ll do it for the film.” I mean, listen, none of us look like we’re freezing on camera, and that’s filmmaking. But yeah, when we were there, it was absolute cold and damp. It really helps transport you to that place you see on film, though. I think that’s what makes THE CELLAR special in a lot of ways, because getting to film inside and outside that house, and going to these locations in Ireland, made us feel like we were really living those experiences, and the locations became secondary characters. They bring a level of sophistication to the film, and I love the fact that we didn’t have to do a whole lot of CGI or mess with any of that stuff. We were there, and it became a central part of the movie in such a beautiful way.

MULDOWNEY: Yeah, and the cellar set was pretty well formed, three-dimensionally; you could look at it from 360 degrees. So even though it was a set, it was like being on another location.

MACKEN: Your production design team was pretty amazing.

MULDOWNEY: They were fantastic, yeah.

Elisha and Eoin, you’ve both done horror films before, so can you each talk about how the CELLAR experience compared to your other genre work?

MACKEN: I’ve been lucky enough to work with some truly great people. [Writer/director] Lee Cronin on A HOLE IN THE GROUND was fantastic, and Lee and Brendan and I are all from Ireland, so we all kind of know each other. I think THE CELLAR is a little bit different from the previous stuff I’ve done, in terms of the way it leans into the atmosphere, and also the relationship that I and Elisha had to build. Sometimes, doing my previous horror stuff, it’s been more isolating from a character point of view, and I just love what Brendan did with the character elements that we got to play with. That was a big part of the interest for me: collaborating with Elisha to create their relationship within that, because then you’re on this journey together. And I’d wanted to work with Brendan for a long time; I’ve been a huge fan of what he’s done, so I was excited for the opportunity to be a part of this. And I know Elisha feels the same way about me!

CUTHBERT: Oh, yeah, and actually, touching on that, and I know Eoin and I worked on this quite a bit–maybe shooting this during COVID, and having to isolate and be in a bubble together, helped with this. Brendan didn’t write a super-wordy script for this couple; a lot of our stuff on camera is looks, and those say so much, and we worked very hard on that, to make sure that you can tell that this couple have known each other and been together for a long time. I really liked that side of the performances that Eoin and I got to play with, because there’s not a lot of directors who will trust in that, that you can deliver with not a lot of words. It was nice to see that that comes across; the fear sometimes, looking at each other, and the concern for our children, is so evident on screen.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM, IndieWire.com, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.