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Lee Daniels-Directed Exorcism Thriller With Andra Day, Octavia Spencer, Glenn Close, Rob Morgan, Caleb McLaughlin, Aunjanue Ellis Scares Up $65M+ Netflix Deal After Head-Spinning 7-Bidder Battle

Deadline
Deadline
 2022-01-24
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EXCLUSIVE : The devil got into Hollywood this weekend as seven bidders waged a head-spinning auction battle for a star-studded exorcism movie package that was won late last night by Netflix.

Lee Daniels will direct, reuniting with his Oscar-nominated The United States vs. Billie Holiday star Andra Day , who’ll star with Octavia Spencer , Glenn Close , Rob Morgan , Caleb McLaughlin and Aunjanue Ellis . Day will play the mother of an Indiana family whose children purportedly became demonically possessed in a thriller inspired by an actual case. Sources tell Deadline that the package closed upward of $65 million, covering the film’s budget and buyouts. Daniels, Tucker Tooley and Pam Williams are producing. It is fast-tracked to begin production by the middle of this year.

In a case widely covered at the time, Latoya Ammons and her three children experienced strange incidents in their Gary, IN, home that grew progressively worse, with the children levitating, becoming violent with one another and speaking in growls and deep voices with no recollection afterward. Skeptics abounded, but the Gary Police Department, Department of Child Services and the local church and hospital all became involved, filing reports that took the supernatural occurrences seriously. Officers, doctors and social workers said they witnessed many of the incidents, including one in which her 9-year-old son walked backward up a wall. The Indianapolis Star covered it closely as the Department of Child Services investigated it.

Ammons optioned her rights to Relativity when the story first became public in 2014, but the movie didn’t get made and those rights lapsed several years ago as Relativity plunged into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Tooley, a former Relativity exec, acquired the lapsed rights after that, under his Tooley Entertainment banner. Then came a long development to get it to a film ready to be made. Dave Coggeshall wrote drafts, as did Elijah Bynum. Then Daniels rewrote it himself, and that is the script the buyers read. It uses the case to frame a fictional thriller, as was done with The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist, The Conjuring and other franchises purported to be based on or inspired by actual events.

Daniels long has been in the mix on this, and it will be his fourth film with Tooley, who produced his directing debut Shadowboxer and Billie Holiday . Together they produced Concrete Cowboy , which Netflix acquired at the virtual Toronto Film Festival two years back. Stranger Things star McLaughlin starred in that film with Idris Elba. He’ll play the son of Day’s character, at an older age. Close, who stars in Netflix’s Don’t Look Up, will play Day’s character’s mother. Morgan will play the boyfriend of Day’s character, and Spencer plays the clergy member who tries to help Day’s character navigate through the hauntings and the exorcisms. Also producing are Todd Crites and Jackson Nguyen of Turn Left Productions, and Greg Renker and Gregoire Gensollen are EPs.

Universal Pictures and Blumhouse last summer paid about $400 million to acquire remake rights for a new trilogy based on The Exorcist, with Leslie Odom Jr attached to star and directed by David Gordon Green, who has scored hits reviving the Halloween fright franchise.

This auction escalated quickly over the weekend and came down to Netflix, MGM and Miramax. It proves yet again that packages like this one are the preferable way to do business with strong elements and a commercial concept. Sources said that when it was submitted, the film had a net budget around $30 million. It shows that even though Netflix saw its stock value fall on reports of softer-than-expected subscriber growth , with a price hike coming to offset content costs, the arms race among the high-end streamers continues to escalate.

CAA Media Finance brokered the deal.

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