by James Fletcher

2021 has been a difficult year for the horror genre, with a number of 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 like fans of the macabre are leaning back into the relaxing blood bath to welcome home the visceral fun of cinema’s spooky sub-culture.

With growing anticipation surrounding the upcoming sequel Halloween Kills, the Guillermo del Toro produced Antlers and the Resident Evil prequel 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 include The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister and the Eric Bana starrer 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, once again teaming with super-producer Jason Blum.

“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 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 him 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 phone from previous victims of the masked man.

And in a similar fashion to Derrickson reaching out to his long-time collaborator Jason Blum, the director faced a similar dilemma with his hopes of casting a familiar face for his cruel and unusual psychopath, in order to bring a complexity and depth to the role.

“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. I sent him the script and told him I really wanted him to play the role. But 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’.

“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 really couldn’t think of any when he said that. And so, he told me that it’s gonna have to be something very special for him to do it.

“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!”

Set to hit screens in Australia late January 2022, the marketing machine around The Black Phone has begun to churn with an exceedingly positive response emanating from a number of small festival screenings in the States, giving Derrickson, and Blumhouse some much needed reassurance after a dismal year for the box-office.

“So far, it’s been amazing,” says 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 at 100%! It will go down, but so far so good.

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

The Black Phone is in cinemas January 27, 2022

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