Surprise, surprise! Another director has left a Disney project over “creative differences’. This time, it’s Sinister’s Scott Derrickson parting ways from Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The director gets to join Hot Fuzz’s Edgar Wright and The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller in the list of directors who have left Disney on grounds of “creative differences”. I suspect that these differences have less to do with creativity and more to deal with conformity but I’ll save that thought for another time. The idea of a horror film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is an intriguing one but it will require a deft hand if it is to succeed. It will require someone both able to craft scares, work with established canon and execute mind-bending action sequences. A tall order for sure. That being said, we have a good number of people in mind that we believe could pull this off.
These are folks who have shown that they can deliver on solid scary visuals while at the same time unafraid to dial up the action if need be. So without further ado, these are the directors we believe should take the reins on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
1. James Wan
Honestly, how can we not pick him? This is the man who launched one of the most ambitious horror film franchises of all time with The Conjuring. Not to mention, he’s also responsible for 2018’s wildly fun, if not inconsistent, Aquaman. Multiverse of Madness will see Doctor Strange plunging deep into a new and frightening world full of eldritch abominations and horrifying creatures. James Wan has had experience working to craft CGI worlds and practical effects to both dazzle and terrify audiences. We’re not entirely certain of how Disney planned on executing Multiverse of Madness, either as an action fantasy film with horror element or as a horror film at its core with comic book elements.
Regardless, we’re confident that Wan will be able to do both well. With his time in the Fast and the Furious films, he has shown that he is able to adapt and experiment with different directorial styles. So if Disney requires him to dance to their beat, we have no doubt that the director will find ways to accommodate it. Besides, The Conjuring is pretty much a superhero team about two exorcists going to spiritual war against dark, demonic forces. Switch out the word “exorcist” with “wizard” and essentially the same concept. We would like to see how Wan blends Doctor Strange’s signature light-based magic with the backdrop of a spiralling hellscape.
2. Guillermo Del Toro
Our next pick knows a thing or two about magic and horror. Quite often his works have been deeply intertwined with the two subjects. He’s best known as the director behind the cinematic adaptation of Mike Mignola’s horror comic masterpiece, Hellboy and Hellboy: The Golden Army. Films that boast amazing creature designs that blend practical and CGI effects to create a truly otherworldly setting. Some of them are wondrous and the others…well the stuff of nightmares. Needless to say our boy Del Toro knows his way around fantasy, magic, horror and superheroes. He’s worked with pre-established canon before and is capable of adding some real depth and personality to characters. Ron Pearlman’s Hellboy will always be the best in my books.
Beyond big-budget superhero blockbusters, Del Toro has mastered the art of creating atmosphere. With films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak giving us the absolute willies with strange, macabre visuals. Creatures like Pan’s Pale Man tends come to mind (and hopefully leave the way they came). However, there’s always more to his fantastical elements that meets the eye. Rarely are they mere, mindless monsters. In films like The Shape of Water, he challenges our notions of love, evil and appearances. If Disney could give the man some space to breathe, we’re sure Del Toro will make something a little badass, a little heartwarming and definitely something creepy out of Multiverse of Madness.
3. Andrés Muschietti
Despite what some of us may think about It: Chapter 2 (personally I really liked it), we can all agree that director Andres Muschietti has delivered in the scare department. I’m not just talking about effective jump-scares either. Throughout his time on the It films, we’ve seen him touch on multiple sub-genres of horror. In Chapter 1, he took a far more psychological approach as he juxtaposes the trauma and helplessness of childhood with the supernatural evil of Pennywise. Both approaches function in tandem to make the audience empathize with the film’s characters, we felt just as small as them. Then in It: Chapter 2, Muschietti employs cosmic horror to further flesh out Pennywise’s sense of power and body horror to invoke feelings of violation.
Doctor Strange’s world of magic, monsters and cosmic beings will most likely be in Muschietti’s wheelhouse. Muschietti could incorporate elements of Lovecraftian horror into Multiverse of Madness with Strange descending deeper into the darker and colder corners of the multiverse. Creatures like the Many-Angled-Ones are inspired after Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos and I think Muschietti is just the man to bring these terrifying ancient beasts to life. He could also explore Strange’s psyche as he grows madder and madder through his voyage into the unknown. Perhaps the good doctor will encounter an evil clown or two…
4. Mike Flanagan
Though he isn’t quite as prominent as the picks on this list, Mike Flanagan has proven to be a promising horror director. He first appeared on my radar in 2013 with Oculus, a tightly-paced, cerebral psychological horror film that sees two siblings do battle with an evil mirror. Since then, he’s not only ever gotten better with his brilliant redemption of the Ouija film franchise with Ouija: Origin of Evil. Recently, he’s adapted two Stephen King novels. He gave us Gerald’s Game in 2017 and 2019’s Doctor Sleep. Both thrilling and terrifying in their own ways with Gerald’s Game taking a more personal, cabin fever route and Doctor Sleep adopting a grander action-horror approach. Flanagan is showing no signs of slowing down and Marvel Studios would do well to note his success.
One aspect that we’ve yet to see Flanagan explore would be the realm of fantasy and cosmic horror. I think Multiverse of Madness would be an excellent opportunity for the director to dip his toes into the two sub-genres of horror. Doctor Sleep is quite similar to a superhero film with Danny Torrance and Abra Stone using their “shine” powers to do battle with psychic vampires. Imagine if he had the chance to play with Doctor Strange’s magical arsenal as the Sorcerer Supreme faces against malevolent beings beyond mortal comprehension. If given the chance I believe Flanagan will truly be able to shine in Multiverse of Madness.
5. Ari Aster
Yes, yes I can feel some of you rolling your eyes at my indie pretensions. And the possibility of Ari Aster losing his shit at Disney execs is high but how can we not consider this rising star of the horror genre? If there’s one thing that Aster truly understands is the connection between spiritual evil and real, emotional terror. In Hereditary, he uses an ancient demonic curse to further exacerbate a troubled family dynamic. Taking the family from domestic squabbles to heartbreaking tragedy before having it all descend into deadly disintegration. The point is, Aster knows that horror is more than just ugly faces and jump-scares. It can be used to highlight problematic aspects of life and bring attention to them through horrific extremes.
Now, imagine what a comic-book film made by Ari Aster would say? Imagine if he made a film in which Doctor Strange must confront his insignificance in the face of multiversal evil. The emotional terror and psychological scarring that would mark the sorcerer as he journeys into the darkest parts of reality. Look, I don’t expect Multiverse of Madness to go into Hereditary or Midsommar levels of depravity but I do think Aster could inject some genuine heart and pathos to character of Stephen Strange. Ultimately, Aster’s films are about human relationships and experiences which is something everyone can relate to, MCU fan or not.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is set to go on floors in May.