Why 'The Black Phone' steers clear of Spielbergian nostalgia

·3-min read

Watch: Scott Derrickson on reclaiming nostalgia in The Black Phone

Need a break from all that Stranger Things-fuelled nostalgia? Well, then, Scott Derrickson’s new horror The Black Phone, out in cinemas now, could be exactly what you’re looking for.

“I love Stranger Things, I really do,” the director told Yahoo in an interview. “I'm on like, episode five of the new season. It's terrific. But I did grow a little weary of consistently seeing stories where middle school kids in these sort of paranormal, you know, fantastical films were always coming from the same Spielberg suburban universe.

"I felt like we’re always interpreting an entire era of growing up through the window of what was really Steven Spielberg’s legacy.”

Read more: Netflix drops trailer for Stranger Things S4 part 2

The Black Phone, adapted from the 2004 short story by Joe Hill (son of legendary horror author, Stephen King), follows a young boy named Finney Shaw (Mason Thomas).

Ethan Hawke as The Grabber in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson.
Ethan Hawke as The Grabber in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson. (Universal Pictures)

On a clear day, in the middle of the sidewalk outside his school, Finney is attacked and thrown into a van by a masked man known only to him as The Grabber (Ethan Hawke). He wakes up in a basement. All that’s there is an old mattress and a disconnected phone.

Derrickson, with his film, builds directly off of the key fears and paranoias of the late Seventies, from the release of influential films like Friday the 13th and Halloween, to the massive cultural shifts which followed the Manson murders and the horrific carnage of serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy.

Read more: Sinister crowned scariest horror movie by science

It’s an attempt to capture just a little of the director’s own childhood, spent in Denver in the late Seventies.

“I grew up in a violent neighbourhood,” Derrickson said. “It was a working-class neighbourhood where people fought all the time, bled all the time. Everybody's parents were pretty abusive. Everybody got the belt or worse.

(from left) Finney Shaw (Mason Thames) and Gwen Shaw (Madeleine McGraw) in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson.
Finney Shaw (Mason Thames) and Gwen Shaw (Madeleine McGraw) in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson. (Universal Pictures)

"My own friend next door knocked on my door when I was nine. And I opened the door and he was crying and he said, 'Somebody murdered my mom'. His mother had been abducted and raped and wrapped in phone cord and thrown in the local lake. My main association with my own childhood is fear. I just remember being afraid all the time.”

For a film as disturbing as The Black Phone, it became an immediate priority that its young cast felt safe and supported on set at all times.

Speaking to Yahoo, Mason Thomas joked that Ethan Hawke gave him 'a noogie on the head' to lighten the mood in between takes on the film’s central abduction scene. “I think I have a picture of it somewhere,” he added.

(from left) The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) and Finney Shaw (Mason Thames) in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson.
The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) and Finney Shaw (Mason Thames) in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson. (Universal Pictures)

Madeleine McGraw, who plays Finney’s sister Gwen, also praised Derrickson’s approach to such sensitive material. “We talked a tonne before this really intense scene that we had to do, which helped me so much, because I was so nervous,” she said.

Read more: The greatest horror sequels ever

“One of the best parts about working with Scott was that we kind of felt like he was always there for us, no matter what.”

The Black Phone is in cinemas now. Watch a trailer below.

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