Five years after a detour through the Marvel Cinematic Universe with “Doctor Strange”, Scott Derrickson returns to horror with “Black Phone”. While the trailer has just been unveiled, the director tells us about his new film.
“A child is kidnapped. He is locked in a soundproof basement, surrounded by the remains of other victims. At nightfall, the telephone – although not connected – at the house starts ringing …” : this is the synopsis of Black Phone, new film by Scott Derrickson whose trailer has just been unveiled.
Five years after the release of Doctor Strange, his first (and so far last) foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the director returns to horror, the genre that revealed it thanks to The Exorcism of Emily Rose or Sinister , in which he was already directing Ethan Hawke. Back in front of his camera, the actor is this time the villain of this feature film which is scheduled for release on January 26, 2022.
Adapted from a short story by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, the tale takes us back to the ’70s and the child abduction story takes a supernatural turn when Finney Shaw (Mason Thames), the latest victim to date. Albert (Ethan Hawke), is helped by his deceased predecessors, who communicate with him via a black telephone yet unplugged in the room where he is held captive.
While the images of a child in a yellow raincoat are reminiscent of Stephen King’s Id and Ethan Hawke seems to be setting up a performance that is both expansive and chilling at the same time, the director referred to this new horrific project produced by Jason Blum at our microphone.
AlloCiné: Where did the desire to make this horror film come from, after your stint at Marvel with “Doctor Strange”?
Scott Derrickson : I love horror movies, since I directed Sinister in 2012 before making Doctor Strange. It is true that, recently, I had broadened my horizon as a director, but I came across the news of a few pages of Joe Hill, who is the son of Stephen King, and I fell in love. I had read his story over sixteen years ago while reading his book in a bookstore. I had no idea he was Stephen King’s son and I just thought straight away that it could make a great movie.
About a year ago, I was lucky enough to be able to embark on a new cinematic adventure and I immersed myself in the adaptation of this news. I wanted to go back to my passion for horror cinema and Black Phone was a perfect opportunity.
What particularly motivated you about this story?
For several years, I have been in therapy. Particularly because I had had some bad experiences when I was young, which influenced my passage to adulthood. I really wanted to make a film that reflects the environment, the neighborhood in which I grew up. I lived in Denver at the end of the 70s, in a difficult neighborhood with a maximum of insecurity, violence and abuse of all kinds. I was, moreover, the youngest boy among all these drifting youngsters.
It was also the time when Ted Bundy had passed by our house killing more than once. And Charles Manson was on the front page with the sad murder of Sharon Tate. I was even confronted with the murder of the mother of a friend who lived near us. I really lived in an ultra morbid atmosphere, not to mention the abuse of violence against many young people by their parents. It was really a dark period of my existence. The fear was in me and in my family.
With this film, I wanted to do something that emulates François Truffaut’s Les 400 coups. So Black Phone is the perfect cross between this film and my memories of an eventful youth. In addition, this story responds to one of the additional anxieties of my youth, that of being kidnapped by a freak, without my knowledge. Not to mention that the supernatural element of this news added a touch of additional anguish.
I had Ethan Hawke in mind to play the bad guy because of his creepy voice
Was it a film that was complicated to set up and shoot?
No, quite the contrary. I was given complete freedom, without too many notes [des producteurs] for writing, and even less when I was shooting and editing. I had Ethan Hawke in mind [pour le méchant], because of his creepy voice, and it works perfectly. I was really left alone to compose the cast I wanted. Including for the two young people, who had dazzled me during their hearing. It was really the easiest film to shoot in my entire career. I wrote the movie in five weeks, submitted it to Jason Blum, and Universal gave it instant approval. It is fabulous ! We shot in just thirty two days, it’s amazing. I was really left alone.
What are the main themes explored by the film?
It is the theme of fear that dominates everything. Especially when I refer to my youth. But I hope that there is something for everyone. Everyone goes through difficult times in their youth, and I hope this film helps more than one in this personal struggle. No one has a perfect youth. I hope this film can help get through this often difficult period. In any case, making this film helped me turn the page on what I experienced. It is by far the most personal and emotional film that I have directed.
Did any weird things develop during filming?
During the filming, absolutely nothing. However, I recently bought a house, and Jason Blum and my wife gave me a nasty surprise by installing a black phone in the cellar. Since then, the phone rings and I refuse to go downstairs to answer it.
Interview by Emmanuel Itier in Los Angeles on October 13, 2021