Scott Derrickson Dials in on The Black Phone

Look Whose Calling?

2021 has been a difficult year for the horror genre with several hit and miss releases struggling to find an audience during what has arguably been an actual Year of Hell. But with Halloween on the horizon, it seems fans of the macabre are leaning back into their relaxing blood baths to welcome home the visceral fun of cinemas spooky little sub-culture.

With growing anticipation surrounding the upcoming sequel Halloween Kills, the Guillermo del Toro produced Antlers and the Resident Evilprequel Welcome to Racoon City, perhaps the most hyped released leading us into 2022 would be the supernatural thriller The Black Phone, from acclaimed director Scott Derrickson whose previous efforts also include The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister and the Eric Banner starer Deliver Us From Evil.

Based on the short story from author Joe Hill, who also happens to be the progeny of Horror maestro Stephen King, The Black Phone marks Derrickson’s first feature film since the release of his impressive MCU entry Doctor Strange in 2016. The darkly nostalgic project also sees a return to Derrickson’s beloved horror genre, with the Colorado native once again teaming with super-producer Jason Blum (Invisible Man, Get Out, Happy Death Day).

“Jason Blum is my closest friend in the film industry.” Reveals Derrickson from his home in L.A. during a virtual presser for The Black Phone trailer drop. “Sinister was the second, or third perhaps, production Blumhouse did, and I had such an amazing experience making that movie with Jason. I was so empowered by him and so I always look for things for us to work together on. 

“And so when this script was finished he was the first person I sent it to. I really had my pick of who I could send it to, but I really wanted Jason to produce it. Then, after having sent it, instead of responding to me with any kind of email or letter, he sends me a black rotary phone in a display box. Which I still have in my house. It’s Great.”

Co-written with Derrickson’s long time writing partner C. Robert Cargill, The Black Phone essentially combines elements of supernatural horror with some not-so-standard serial killer tropes as it follows the story of Finney Shaw (Mason Thames), who falls victim to a serial kidnapper who imprisons the young teen in a basement with nothing but an old disconnected rotary phone adorning the walls. But as the psychotic tendencies of his assailant, simply referred to as The Grabber, begin to escalate, Finney begins receiving calls on the dead phone from previous victims of his menacing captor.

And in a similar fashion to Derrickson reaching out to his long-time collaborator Jason Blum, Derrickson gambled a similar card with hopes of casting a familiar face to bring a complexity and depth to the role of his cruel and unusual antagonist.

“I love Ethan Hawke and had an amazing experience with him on Sinister.” Explains Derrickson. “He was the only person I offered the role to you know. I sent him the script and told him I really wanted him to play the role. However I did say to him, ‘You know, it’s the villain… and he’s a paedophile… and a child killer. Also, He’s wearing a mask the whole time’. 

So Ethan texted me back saying, ‘Look I don’t really play villains very often, if at all.’ Which hadn’t really occurred to me, I mean, I really couldn’t really think of any when he said that. So, he told me that its gonna have to be something very special for him to do it. 

“Anyway, he read the script and left me a voicemail that night… which was just a very, scary voice reading one of the lines from the script I’d sent. And that’s how I found out that he was saying Yes!”

After having its release pushed back thanks to the COVID situation, Australian cinemas are currently slated to begin screening the film late June 2022. However, with the latest trailer having dropped, the marketing machine surrounding The Black Phone has begun to slowly churn with an exceedingly positive response emanating from a number of small festival screenings having taken place in the US in late 2021, giving Derrickson, and Blumhouse some much needed reassurance after a dismal year for the box-office.

“So far it’s been amazing” Lauds Derrickson when asked about the film’s reception in front of a live audience. “I’ve seen it screened four times; we did two test screenings which went great. Then we screened it at Fantastic Fest in Austin and then we screened it here in LA at Beyond Fest. We have like eight reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s sitting at 100%! So, I guess it will go down, but so far so good.  

“But, yeah… it’s has been a very good response so far. It is a very emotional film. Easily the most emotional film I’ve ever made, by a long shot. So, I think it’s having more of an emotional impact on audiences than they’re expecting, which is always exciting when it happens.”

    J. Fletcher

    Based in Sydney, Australia. Entertainment Journalist. Critic. Photographer. Coffee Snob. Not necessarily in that order.

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