The Black Phone Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
This supernatural chiller contains depth & dramatic storytelling, all while following a brilliant Ethan Hawke in a devil mask. Hold on tight, this is a real thrill ride!
Genre: Horror / Thriller
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, Miguel Cazarez Mora, Tristan Pravong, E. Roger Mitchell, Troy Rudeseal & James Ransone.
Run Time: 103 min.
US Release: 08 June 2022
UK Release: 08 June 2022
German Release: 23 June 2022
Ethan Hawke is reunited with Scott Derrickson, in this supernatural horror-thriller that I have been waiting for release since the first trailer hit the net. Derrickson, who was supposed to be directing Doctor Strange 2, left the project due to creative differences with Marvel, and it could not have been a greater blessing for him, as The Black Phone is one of the better movies to hit the big screen this year. Known for his other horror flicks, like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister - a brilliant supernatural horror starring Ethan Hawke - this was a passion project for Derrickson.
Set in 1978 Denver, the story revolves around Finney, a 13-year-old boy, captured by the notorious child killer “The Grabber”. Locked in a soundproof basement, Finney starts receiving calls on a disconnected phone from the Killer’s previous victims.
C. Robert Cargill, together with the director, adapted the short story by Joe Hill into a screenplay. This is more of a dramatic thriller than a horror film, with the setting being portrayed as a very bleak coming-of-age story. The teenage protagonist is a smart child, who is constantly bullied in school by stronger kids, with his only real friend being his younger sister. The streets of their neighbourhood are unsafe, with somebody kidnapping children and at home, they need to protect one another, as their father is an abusive alcoholic. Right from the start, you obtain enough background to build up the character.
That said it also contains some fantastic horror elements, that are underlined by the dark atmosphere. The use of belts and fists, for educational purposes by parents, does not only comply with the 70s setting, yet also reveals that the real terror is not supernatural but the reality of the physical world. Then there is the isolated basement, where Finney is locked up by his kidnapper, which builds on the feeling of discomfort. Just as with his previous work, The Black Phone makes use of limited jump scares, which are strong!
The supernatural elements, while adding to the thrills, also take an unanticipated twist: a statement of the originality of Cargill and Derrick’s vision.
The dialogues reflect the plot and are intense, with some of the best lines delivered by Madeleine McGraw, especially during a particularly painful scene. However, the truly petrifying segments are delivered by Ethan Hawke, whose dialogue lines might seem friendly at first, but the undertone is always chillingly frightening.
Ethan Hawke was the perfect casting choice as the villainous “Grabber”! With his face constantly covered, Hawke needed to rely on his acting skills to emote everything through his eyes and tone of voice, while the terrifying mask he wore, had interchangeable mouthpieces to reflect the mood of the character. It is one of the most unsettling performances I saw on the silver screen! Sadly, the character himself has no real backstory, making it hard to understand what his motivation is to kidnap and murder children.
Mason Thames as Finney, gives a stellar performance for a child actor. His persona is set up throughout the first part of the movie, giving him a perfect arc for development. Finney, who is always passive by trying to avoid confrontations, will need to learn to stand up for himself, if he wants to get out alive of the predicament he finds himself in. Thames is so likeable in the role, that the viewers are immediately invested in the character’s wellbeing. This ups the stakes for survival, of course, because the audience is told from the very beginning that none of the other missing children have ever been found.
Madeleine McGraw, who portrays Finney’s younger sister Gwen, is the hidden gem in this horror flick. She stole every scene she was in, giving an Oscar-worthy performance. Gwen is an extremely complex character; she is snarky and tough towards the outside world, using this as a strength since her home life is all other than sunshine. She and Finney get constantly beaten by their dad. Gwen also has a gift, she keeps hidden from their father.
Jeremy Davis plays Terrence, Finney and Gwen’s father. An aggressive alcoholic person, whose temper can lead to opening up a can of whoop-ass, setting up the tone as well as the tension of the plot early on. However, he also shows real love for his children, with one able to sense his concern for Finney once he gets abducted.
More side characters have a larger influence on the story, though are cut short on screen, or are missing complete backstories. Anyway, these are just minor gripes.
The fantastic camera work not only captures the look of the 70s, it very much feels like it. It is exactly that authenticity on film, that creates a horror-esque tone when capturing the aggressive family dynamic or the brutality on school campus that existed in that era. Some of the supernatural elements were made to look like old celluloid film, not only selling the decade this takes place in, but In many ways, it can be also perceived as a cinematographic sibling to Sinister. Finally, the creative movement of the camera helped to create effective jump scares.
The movie relies more on practical effects and props, using visual effects or CGI sparingly, though very successful! Practical props, setting, make-up and costume design, were generally handled well, reflecting the decade it plays in.
The sound effects and score reflect the miserable life of the characters, building on tension, plus being psychologically discomforting.
Verdict: An absolute fresh take on supernatural horror, The Black Phone’s first act is sheer character set-up, emotionally hooking the audience to the character of Finney. The atmosphere is dark, the characters lead a sorrowful, nearly miserable life, displaying the complications of childhood in the 70s, as well as winding up the tension. The narrative displays some weaknesses when it comes to the police procedure in finding “The Grabber”, yet these can be forgiven. The dialogues are well written and intense, especially when it comes to Ethan Hawke’s character, who the actor displayed frighteningly menacing. The star of this picture, however, is hands down Madeleine McGraw, who gave a chillingly accurate rendition, of what a child would be like in that era, having an abusive father and a missing brother. I can only recommend Derrickson’s latest feature, which deserves an 8.0 out of 10.
Have you seen The Black Phone yet? If not, go to the theatres, give it a chance, it is worth it! Leave a comment & let me know what you thought!