Nolan (Mamoudou Athie) is a father who is suffering from amnesia after a car crash (where he also loses his wife). Struggling to bring up his daughter Ava (Amanda Christine), Nolan seeks out the help of Lillian (Phylicia Rashad), who is pioneering an experimental technique of retrieving lost memories via VR. But as Nolan delves deeper into his psyche to find himself, he ends up doing the opposite. Will Nolan make it back from his mental fight to raise Ava? And is Lillian all she seems?
Part of Welcome To The Blumhouse, which consists of four thrilling films, Black Box is a sci-fi drama that delves into parental relationships and the lengths people go to to maintain that relationship. We spoke to Black Box’s director and co-writer Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour to find out more…
What was it like being part of Welcome To The Blumhouse? Did you speak to the other directors?
We were pretty isolated. I wasn’t influenced by any of the other films in any way [but] I met the Evil Eye directors [Elan Dassani, Rajeev Dassani] because we shot back to back in New Orleans. They just became really good friends and they gave me tips and tricks on the ground!
At what point did you join Black Box?
I came in after an early draft by Steve Herman. Blumhouse found a short film of mine called Born With It. They liked it, and they invited me to pitch my ideas as the director and even as the writer. When I read the original script I liked the father/daughter relationship in the story. I liked the concept and I really leaned into it, adding this idea of a flawed father, a flawed man that has come to terms with the mistakes in his past and become a better person for the sake of his daughter. Blumhouse loved it and Amazon loved it and so they ended up hiring me to rewrite and direct it!
What were the main changes you made to the first draft of the script?
Well, I really wanted to lean into this parent/child relationship. There’s a parent/child dynamic on multiple levels in this movie. I think at the heart of all this is the themes of memory and identity and the aftermath of tragedy; there’s a big thing about second chances to be a better parent. I think that’s really relevant. We’ve seen a lot of people change as a result of the mistakes they made in their life, and maybe they long to come back into their family and make things better. So that was something else I wanted to explore.
Ultimately I think it’s about the sacrifices that you’ll make for the betterment of your child. To give your child a better life. I have seen amongst my friends and loved ones; how they transform once they become parents and how everything, every aspect of every fiber of their being, is then dedicated to becoming a better person so that they can give their child a better life.
What was your vision for Black Box?
From the beginning felt like it was a character study of a flawed man. But I think everything about this world is causing him to question the mistakes that he made in his life. That theme was always there from the beginning. Amazon and Blumhouse and my producers Lisa Bruce, Jay Ellis, and Aaron Bergman and Mynette Louie just really helped me elevate the story so that it fit the vision we had.
There are quite a few scary moments when Nolan is in his mind trying to find his memories…
Yeah, I mean as far as the creature that appears in his memories – The Backwards Man I call him – it’s like he’s trying to push him out of his memories, like the traumatic aberration or whatever you want to call it! When I was trying to bring it to life, I wanted it to feel practical in any way I could, so we got Troy James [to play] The Backwards Man. He is a contortionist so everything you see in the film is him, no digital effects, it’s all him. There’s no VFX – we didn’t have that kind of money haha! Everything you see in the film is him, except for the blurred faces. But everything, every movement is all him.
I would say that my inspiration for how to bring that character to life was… remember The Babadook? The Ring, the original Japanese version, was another inspiration.
What were your other inspirations when writing and directing Black Box?
As far as transitioning into the memory, or even just that transition into the same room. I would say [there’s] a combination of The Matrix, The Butterfly Effect, Looper [and] Source Code… I think all those films do a really good way of transitioning the character from the real world into a virtual subconscious world.
I’ve always said that film is a cross between Black Swan and The Pursuit of Happiness. The way [Black Swan] captures the psychology of someone who’s always questioning the reality in their identity in a really grounded way [and] also The Pursuit Of Happiness because of the emotion, the relationships, and the magical bond between parent and child.
As far as the thriller world goes, I would say Unbreakable was [an inspiration]. It kind of told me that I could tell a really sensitive, emotional thriller while still having that suspense and balancing the family element as well. I think M Night Shyamalan did a really great job in that film. So that was definitely a huge inspiration for me to create a heartwarming thriller.
Black Box is out now on Amazon Prime Video.