I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 15 years.
Writer/director Scott Derrickson’s newest horror movie, The Black Phone—based on the short story by Joe Hill—is due to be released June 24, 2022. The film stars Mason Thames as an abducted child who can communicate with the past victims of his kidnapper, portrayed by Ethan Hawke. To get us primed for The Black Phone, let’s look back and rank Derrickson’s previous films.
1) Sinister (2012)
Ethan Hawke as a one hit wonder crime novelist. A house purchased at well below market value due to some, um, history. Creepy kids. Cans of film. An ancient entity. A lawnmower. One of the best horror movies of the 20-teens manages to have effective jump scares as well as classic tension building scenes while still managing to give gore-hounds a small if effective taste of the red and gushy stuff. A horror movie that manages to scare you in so many different ways as well as allow you to scare yourself anticipating the frights. Deemed “the scariest movie ever made” by the Forbes Magazine Science of Scare Project, Sinister gets under your skin and stays there after the credits roll. The less said about the sequel the better.
2) The Black Phone (2021)
While nowhere near as terrifying as Sinister, The Black Phone has more than its share of moments to keep you from looking at your phone. Featuring a wonderfully cast-against-type Ethan Hawke as a sinister(!) child kidnapper and murderer. The second act drags the movie down but the ending more than redeems it. Takes you back to a time when driving in a van wasn't conspicuous and phones had things called "cords". This phone is worth answering.
3) The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Scott Derrickson’s first feature film is an odd but effective combination of courtroom drama (based on a true story) and horror movie. It doesn’t always mesh together perfectly, but it’s fascinating to watch the movie try. Anchored by a go-for-broke performance by Jennifer Carpenter as the titular Emily, she provides most of the movie’s genuine scares because you never really know if Emily’s really possessed or there’s something medically wrong with her that can be explained by science. It helps during the more fantastical parts to have great actors like Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson to deliver lines that might be laughable if they weren’t delivered with such conviction. A film you should go into cold without preconceptions.
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4) Doctor Strange (2016)
Scott Derrickson’s contribution to the Marvel money machine at least has a visual flair that kind of stands out from the rest of the MCU's homogenized product. It’s a pretty generic origin story, but it’s still fun in a way that you’ve seen dozens of times before because it’s Marvel. You’re not looking for variety when you watch one of these movies, are you? Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular Doctor is pretty much one-note arrogance until the transformative third act (yes, it’s pretty much Iron Man with a cape. Sorry, cloak). The female character is barely existent (sorry, Rachel McAdams) and the villains are as weak as you’d expect most Marvel villains to be, but it’s generically entertaining. At least Derrickson sets Strange apart visually.
5) The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008)
Klaatu Veratu, no thanks. Scott Derrickson’s remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic casts Keanu Reeves as the alien Klaatu, sent to destroy humans because we’re destroying our planet. Klaatu should have been sent to destroy this movie. Reeves' (purposeful) wooden acting isn’t the worst thing about this. An annoying Jaden Smith throws a little fit that could end up destroying the world. A save-the-planet message force fed to an audience bored to tears 45 minutes into the movie. You know the movie’s not working when Kathy Bates can’t do anything interesting with a character. The special effects look amazing, which only highlights how hollow the rest of the movie is. Still…born is more like it.
6) Deliver Us From Evil (2014)
Based on Sinister and how Scott Derrickson mixed relative realism with scares in Emily Rose, you’d think Deliver—based on retired Detective Ralph Sarchie’s memoirs—would be a chip shot, but the movie fails to deliver any scares, except for the cheapest, jumpiest variety. Eric Bana plays cop with a crisis of faith and Edgar Ramirez plays a priest. They team up to fight demonic crime or something like that. Derrickson tries to balance scenes with overly long religious discussions with giving the audience the Evil they paid their ticket for. You’re rarely satisfied and more often than not bored. While you’re bored you count the number of times actors slip in and out of their forced New York accents (looking at you, Olivia Munn). Thankfully, there are times when Deliver works as an unintentional comedy, but we’re guessing that’s not what Derrickson was hoping for. Before I began writing the segment I promised myself I wouldn’t write something like “deliver us from this movie.” I’ve kept my promise.
Before you see The Black Phone, revisit Scott Derrickson’s previous 5 films and hope Phone is more Sinister and less Deliver Us from Evil.