Earlier this month, Shudder released Brendan Muldowney's feature film The Cellar, and one of his biggest frustrations was how he managed to shoot a short film based on the same idea, which was somehow easier to make than the feature for which he had a budget and some great actors. In the original version, Muldowney told us, technology wasn't as much of a factor. It was 2020 by the time The Cellar was being filmed, which means -- as so many fans and critics have joked around about over the years -- horror movies have to contend with the power and omnipresence of cell phones.
In the film, a couple deals with the disappearance of their daughter, who vanished after the family moved into a spooky house. While on the phone with her mother, she walked down the basement stairs, counting the steps as she descended into darkness...and just kept counting, her voice becoming an emotionless monotone, long after the number of actual stairs had been passed. That sequence was the whole premise of the short film, and Muldowney admits that he would have loved to get to the action that quickly and matter-of-factly in the feature.
"It's actually based on a short film that I made. And I rathered making the short," Muldowney told ComicBook. He clarified, "Well, it's not that I rathered than making it, but it was a lot easier making it back then, because cell phones were not the same. If it went dark, you couldn't use your phone and you had to use candles. So it was a lot easier to make that original short, because they didn't have these problems. There was a scare in the short film where the lights go out and it just goes pitch black. And it's black for, I don't know how long, but it's at least 30 seconds, 40 seconds. It's just noise, and there's even a jump scare in the darkness -- a big screeching sound of a chair being pulled as she falls over. I couldn't do that in this, because the logic wasn't there. It's like when the lights go off, she's going to turn on a phone."
When we spoke with one of the film's stars, actor Eoin Macken, he said that he was glad his character -- a career-focused advertising executive -- wasn't the kind of one-note jerk that such characters often are in fiction. Still, the idea of snuffing out ad executives did appeal to Muldowney on some level.
"I told someone earlier, 'I've tried many versions of this, and I'm just finding it hard, sending innocent characters to hell,'" Muldowney said with a laugh. "Making them advertising executives who were more worried about work than their kids, it was a lot easier."
That's mostly a joke, though. While wife Kiera (Elisha Cuthbert) is the one who immediately realizes there is something very, very wrong, husband Brian isn't heartless or dismissive without good reason. He just believes that the daughter ran away -- something she has done before -- and not that she was sucked into a hell dimension.
"When you talk about the father, it's sort of problematic in a way, because sometimes he really looks like he's not taking it seriously, but he is," Muldowney explained. "We added in plenty of stuff, where he believes she's run away, and she's done it before, and he's not taking it seriously, but [Kiera] was the only one who heard her voice change when she was counting. So it's that change in personality, and what she heard in the voice, that really drives her."
You can see The Cellar on Shudder now.