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The Cellar’s Eoin Macken on horror & his love of genre films

The Cellar is another addition to the creepy basement trope as seen in films like The Silence of the LambsEvil Dead, and House on Haunted Hill. However, the inclusion of complicated mathematical and scientific equations, as well as a stairway to a different dimension, allows The Cellar to stick out in a crowded genre. Written and directed by Brendan Muldowney, The Cellar is based on the same director’s award-winning short, 2004’s The Steps.

Keira and Brian Woods, played by Elisha Cuthbert and Eoin Macken, and their two children move into a new house in Roscommon, Ireland. When their daughter mysteriously vanishes in the house’s cellar, it’s up to Keira to figure out how she vanished using the mathematical symbols and equations scattered throughout the house. However, the cursed cellar haunts the rest of the family as it attempts to regain control of the house.

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Digital Trends spoke to Macken about his relationship with Muldowney, the benefits of shooting a horror film during a pandemic, his relationship with genre films, and why he continues to seek them out.

Brian stands at the bottom of the stairs and looks up in a scene from The Cellar.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Digital Trends: How did you initially find this project, and what made you want to get involved?

Eoin Macken: It was all Brendan Muldowney, to be honest with you. I wanted to work with Brendan, for probably a long time. I did just a couple of scenes for the film we did called Savage years ago, and I thought Brandon was a wonderful director. So when I read this script, I was like, “I really wanted to do this.” I thought the way he designed it and the way he wrote that lore of what this was fascinated me. I wanted to know what was going on. And then the ending, I was like, “All right, I got to do this.”

Did “evil math house” attract you to the project?

[laughing] That was actually their story pitch when they sent over the script.

Did you and Brendan plan on working together again? Did you stay in touch, hoping you would find the right project one day?

Not so much that we had been searching for something. I think I was just lucky that the kind of script found its way to me. I think I might have told Brendan at a film festival that I really wanted to work with him again. We kind of sort of knew each other in certain circles from filmmaking over the last decade or so. Then it just happened. I think he was a fan of Nightflyers, and it kind of seemed to fit. I was a fan of his, so when he told me about The Cellar, I said, “I’d love to do this.”

I actually spoke with Brendan about this so I want to get your perspective. Your character works at this advertising agency and in a way, your job is essentially to manipulate clients as well as the public perception of what you’re selling. But inside the house, your entire family is the one being manipulated. Is this a weird form of karma? Are you guys being punished for things you’ve done in your life?

Yeah, I thought it was interesting. As those characters, their job is creating a kind of lie or a fabrication. And I think for Keira, her character has more of an imagination so she connects to it. Brian is a lot more pragmatic. But yeah, it is interesting how they don’t even see what’s happening to their kid in terms of how she’s getting bullied and so forth. It makes sense then that they don’t even really see what’s going on in their own house because they are a little bit kind of focused their jobs, you know?

Keira holds a light up with Steven standing behind her in a scene from The Cellar.

You shot this film during the pandemic. I’m assuming you had to quarantine before, which means you’re alone for a few weeks. In the film, you’re alone as well, playing the father who doesn’t believe that his daughter could disappear supernaturally. Did the two weeks in quarantine help you get into the right mindset of the character?

Yeah, it really did. We had two weeks in cottages, side by side in the middle of the forest, and the house was right there. So the house we were about to film in was kind of sort of overlooking us from this hill. We would go for walks around it, and it did get really creepy at nighttime. There were these [strange] noises from these cows on the land. It sounds weird, but when no one’s around, you have these forests and this deep bellowing of these cows coming in the distance in this creepy house that’s overlooking our cottages, and we’re just kind of staying in [them]. Yeah, it was a bit weird. But we had the time to work on what we’re doing, and we’re like, “We’re definitely making a horror movie.”

Did you think the actual house [they filmed in] was haunted?

I’m not allowed to say if it was or not, but I’m telling you, just between you and me, it was incredibly weird. Where we were around that house, it was a strange, strange place. Beautiful but strange.

Was it good to at least be back in Ireland filming again?

I mean I love whenever I get back home to Ireland, but we were just in a forest. That’s where we were for the whole shoot. I don’t think Elisha even got a pint of Guinness because we weren’t able to get to the bars. They were closed due to COVID.

Ellie stands in front of her father Brian in a scene from The Cellar.

Speaking of Elisha, I know she’s a “Scream Queen” in her own right. You guys have great chemistry throughout the film. What was it like working alongside her?

I think she’s fantastic. She’s been a gem. We had a really nice relationship because we got to know each other a couple of weeks before shooting. We had a nice camaraderie, which kind of helped everything so it could be a bit more subtle. I think we didn’t have to kind of push stuff. I think she did a great job.

You seem to gravitate towards horror and mysteries like The Cellar, La Brea, or I am Fear.  What is it about this genre that attracts you to these mysterious roles?

It’s interesting. I think it’s usually kind of who the director is and what they’ve written and who the character is that they’ve created. I think I’ve gotten to play some of the most interesting characters in genre stuff. All the stakes are always quite heightened and it makes it a lot of fun. I think when you’re doing genre films and shows, there’s an energy to what you’re doing all the time. It’s always like the idea is always a bit out there, which I find fun. I love genre stuff anyway. It’s what I grew up watching and reading. So for me, this is my jam.

Do you have a favorite horror film?

Whenever someone asks that, I always say Rosemary’s Baby because it’s the one that kind of like creeped me out the most. There’s something in Rosemary’s Baby that, I don’t know, just gets in your bones and in your belly. So that’s always been the one that sucked me in.

Did you find any challenges working with the actors (Abby Fitz and Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady) who play your children in the film? They reacted very well to all of the horror elements.

Honestly, I couldn’t have done what they did at their age. I couldn’t have acted in my teens, and the two of them were fantastic. They were great.

The Cellar was screened at South by Southwest (SXSW), which is known for its raucous crowds and good reactions to horror films. How was the premiere? 

I actually saw the movie for the first time at SXSW. Part of that was because I wanted to see it with a SXSW crowd and also I wanted to see it at a cinema for the first time. I wanted to see with everybody. So it kind of scared the hell out of me. The energy of watching this movie for the first time on a Saturday night was awesome, especially because I had no idea what to expect. I got a massive kick out of it. I loved it.

In addition to acting, you have written, produced, and directed your own feature films. How does this all-encompassing background add to your performances in movies like The Cellar?

I always want to make things. Even now when I’m on La Brea, we’re in Australia and a couple of other guys just want to make stuff. It’s like being a kid. But I find that it kind of helped me understand the process a lot more. So I give my trust over to the director and go, “I’m going to do whatever you need me to do. I’m here to service your vision.” That’s kind of very relaxing for me because then you realize it is about so many different moving parts to create a film. As an actor, I’m just there to help create what the director’s vision is.

The Cellar is out now in theaters and available to stream on Shudder.

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