Ethan Hawke (Left) and Scott Derrickson (Right)
Courtesy of AP
Finally, something scarier than the COVID-19 delta variant has come out of CinemaCon 2021.
Universal Pictures unveiled a packed trailer for its upcoming Blumhouse horror thriller “The Black Phone” on Wednesday, during a presentation to the annual convention of movie theater owners in Las Vegas.
Reuniting Ethan Hawke with his “Sinister” writer-director Scott Derrickson, the project is adapted from a short story by Joe Hill. Hawke delivers a bone-chilling performance as an unnamed villain, a character he said breaks with his “no bad guys” rule while introducing the clip.
“The Black Phone” follows an abducted boy “locked in a basement that’s stained with the blood of half a dozen other murdered children. In the cellar with him is an antique telephone, long since disconnected, but which rings at night with calls from the dead,” according to a synopsis of the short. So we’re already having fun.
Hawke appears at first glance in white face paint and a top hat, struggling with falling grocery bags beside a totally unsuspicious beat up black van. He lures the film’s young lead Mason Thames, watching from afar, with tales of being a part time magician (OK!). Before we know it, we’re in the aforementioned murder basement and that phone starts ringing.
In a pre-taped speech for the exhibitors, Hawke said that Blumhouse founder Jason Blum had previously called “Sinister” the “scariest movie he’d ever worked on,” but “The Black Phone” has now taken that illustrious title.
Derrickson is fully flexing in his comfort zone after leaving low-budget horror to helm the first “Doctor Strange” film at Marvel. He departed the sequel “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” last year following creative differences.
“The Black Phone” teaser, which Variety may or may not have watched from behind both hands, sees the narrative firing on multiple cylinders. The movie promises pure dread as Thames is tortured by Hawke, fond of donning terrifying masks and taunting him with stories of previous basement tenants and his own childhood. The supernatural is introduced via the phone calls, where the spirits of fallen children attempt to help Thames escape, leaving clues and life hacks in his physical space. A young neighborhood girl is also burdened with visions of Thames in capture, and attempts to help lead the police to him before it’s too late.
The plausibility of these unthinkable crimes mixed with the paranormal elements sets this up as the next possible franchise for Universal and Blumhouse, who have seen great success thanks to Blum’s modest budgets and high box office returns. Let’s also not forget that Hawke’s early collaboration with the production company, “The Purge,” earned him millions thanks to fully deferring his paycheck in exchange for a more favorable backend payout.
Jeremy Davies, E. Roger Mitchell, Madeleine McGraw and James Ransone co-star. Derrickson adapted the screenplay with C. Robert Cargill.
“The Black Phone” is set to hit theaters on Jan. 28, 2022.
Variety's Matt Donnelly contributed to this post.