Blumhouse has an eclectic roster of content, but Welcome to the Blumhouse’s Black Box feels like a film that’s especially appropriate for the company’s diverse tastes. The story carefully meshes together science fiction, horror, and family drama to talk about something that’s deeply common, yet through a highly unusual lens. Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr, the director and co-writer responsible for Black Box, talks about telling a genre story that’s also deeply emotional, the influences on the film’s distinct look, and the important bond between a parent and child.
Where did this idea initially come from and what were you looking to explore with all of this?
Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.: I got the job after Blumhouse saw one of my last shorts, Born With It, about a mixed-race Japanese boy who is searching for his identity in Japan. That film did well in the international festival circuit. Blumhouse saw it and thought that my sensitivity and sensibility would lend itself well to the thriller and horror space. So I got a script for Black Box a few months after my first meeting with them and I remember being impressed not just with the concept of the Black Box, but also just Nolan’s devotion to his daughter.
As I was thinking about the rewrite and how to bring this story to life, I started to think about a character who’s a deeply flawed father and man who has to wrestle with his past mistakes, but he does so to become a better father. That’s what I started to really focus on thematically and it’s something that’s really personal to me because I’ve seen various people from my life, whether it’s friends or family, who suddenly become better versions of themselves after having a child. So luckily Blumhouse, Amazon, and my producers all really loved that idea so I got the job.
Were there any particular inspirations behind Black Box, whether for the story or the design of the monsters?
Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.: So I did want to articulate that the Backwards Man creature that appears is 100% practical. It was performed by Troy James and he’s actually doing all of that. The idea of how to bring the Backwards Man to life originally came from watching Troy James perform on America’s Got Talent. But I also think that the idea of how to bring the Backwards Man to life on screen was also partly inspired by the Babadook, a little bit, in terms of keeping the characters in the shadows. Conceptually, I’ve always pictured this film as Black Swan meets The Pursuit of Happyness. Black Swan is really about the psychology of someone who’s constantly questioning their reality, but it’s executed in a really ground slice of life way. The Pursuit of Happyness depicts this magical bond between a father and his child, which is also fundamental here.
But there was a lot of other stuff that was on my mind throughout, like Unbreakable for how it balances family elements with thriller and suspense stuff. Japanese horror was another big influence here and I just love how Japanese cinema builds suspense through silence, so I tried to do a lot of that. Even stuff like The Matrix, Butterfly Effect, and Looper were partial influences on the transitions for going into the memories.
Were you excited to tackle something with more of a sci-fi slant and to bring some of these grander effects and visuals to life?
Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.: Yeah, but I also didn’t want to rely on them. I always believe on keeping things small and intimate. I wanted to keep things practical as much as possible, but at the end of the day it’s the relationships, character, and family dynamics that are more important to me than any of the effects or genre elements.
Was it always this blurred face approach for the people within the memories and Black Box, or did this idea or look change at all?
Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.: That changed a little, too, but it was always present, right down the original script. That was really just about how to best depict something like that without going overboard and that is creepy enough without requiring a ton.
The whole cast is wonderful and they really help ground and bring out the human elements of this science fiction story.
Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.: I think the secret to good directing is good casting, and so I think I got really lucky with how a lot of the actors that I went after agreed to be in he project. I went after Phylicia Rashad pretty early on and she’s the only person that could play that character in my mind. She gives it this maternal quality, but she’s also stern. You see her undergo this transformation that’s honestly heartbreaking. As far as Mamoudou goes, it was a little trickier. The character of Nolan, at his core, is supposed to be this seemingly perfect father, but the more that he uses the Black Box there’s this darkness that begins to build around him.
I wanted to cast someone that you’d never expect to have a dark side and I remember seeing Mamoudou in Sorry For Your Loss and The Front Runner, where he’s able to steal scenes because he’s so quiet and magnetic. He has this quiet introspective nature that I think really works with this idea of the perfect father, but also lends itself well to his greater struggle about figuring out who he is. I felt it in my gut that Mamoudou would be able to handle the complexity and range to go where the character needs to go. He effortlessly transforms over the course of the film.
Amanda [Christine], who plays Ava, is this diamond in the rough. We saw so many kids and she’s just like an adult with how professional she is. She’s incredible and I think she’s going to be a big talent to look out for.
This film unpacks some larger ideas like control and independence, albeit in a unique way, but what are you hoping to highlight here and what do you want people to take away from this film?
Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.: I really want people to take away and clue into the sacrifices that a parent is willing to make so their child can have a better life. For me that’s ultimately the message, not that there necessarily needs to be a message. It at least starts a conversation on parent-child relationships. If there is a message it’s in relation to how much parents will sacrifice for the wellbeing of their children.
Welcome to the Blumhouse’s Black Box premieres on Amazon Prime on October 6.