FILM REVIEW: The Black Phone (2021)

The Black Phone - New Release Review


Director: Scott Derrickson

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, E. Roger Mitchell


Written by: C. Robert Cargill, Scott Derrickson

Produced by: Jason Blum, C. Robert Cargill, Scott Derrickson

Cinematography by: Brett Jutkiewicz

Original Score by: Mark Korven


Synopsis:

After being abducted by a child killer and locked in a soundproof basement, a 13-year-old boy starts receiving calls on a disconnected phone from the killer's previous victims.



Thoughts:

Blumhouse has proven in recent years that it is thee new house of horror. With hits like 'Halloween (2018)' and 'Happy Death Day', they’ve shown that they can bring classic slasher horror made popular in the 80s back into the mainstream. But with 'The Black Phone', director Scott Derrickson brings back the slow burn horror from the 70’s, and for me, it works incredibly well here.



Derrickson’s work in the past has been very hit and miss for me but with 'The Black Phone' it feels like he’s finally found his stride and made something that feels suitably mature. Based on an original short story by Joe Hill, Scott Derrickson is able to find a way to beef out the body of the story with some great brother/sister relationship stuff that really elevates the film. Co-written by Derrickson and regular writing partner C. Robert Cargill (someone I’ve been following from his days on Spill.com and AICN) it’s amazing to see these guys work so closely together, tapping into their memories of their childhood to make the 70’s setting feel genuinely authentic.


The real standouts in the film are Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw, who play siblings Finney and Gwen. Their family relationship to each other is completely believable, something that is almost always impossible to capture in these types of films, especially with child actors. By the end of the film, I could hear people in the audience sobbing, all because of the powerful performances from the two kids. Derrickson has definitely used his knowledge of working with young actors on 'Sinister' and applied it here. There are several fun moments when Derrickson makes visual references to Stephen King works (Joe Hill’s father) and it made me think what he and Cargill would do with a property like 'IT' or 'Pet Sematary'.



I’ve gone this whole review so far without mentioning our star attraction, The Grabber, hauntingly played by Ethan Hawke. Hawke creates a character that’s profoundly despicable, yet the actors' natural charm shines through so much to make something so watchable that you can’t wait to see what he does next. The Grabber reminded me of what Heath Ledger did with The Joker in Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight'. Where Ledger pulled from Tom Waits, Hawke kind of pulls from Michael Jackson. Now that may sound like a joke or in poor taste, but it really works to have a soft-spoken villain with such a horrendous mask. Speaking of the mask, it was beautifully crafted by the master Tom Savini, and is definitely terrifying enough to belong in the horror hall of fame beside the iconic masks of Michael Myers and Leatherface.



Like I said before, this is a return to a slow burn style of horror and that might put a few people off, especially based on Derrickson's previous work. About 30 minutes of screen time passes before The Grabber appears but the movie uses those 30 minutes to lay the framework for how Finney’s home and school life inform his personality. We see a great performance from character actor Jeremy Davies (Lost, Saving Private Ryan) as Finney’s abusive father and my love for Davies had me glued to the screen in every scene he appears in. There’s a supernatural aspect to the plot, that could be a far reach for some audience members, but it’s handled so well and never over-explained.



Derrickson has presented the world with a fantastic Summer horror film to keep us tide over until Halloween, but really this might end up being the best horror film of the year. Great scares. Great performances and a new "love to hate" villain in the form of The Grabber, which is sure to be a favourite Halloween cosplay for years to come. A perfect weekend popcorn movie that will surely have teenagers leaving the theatres asking “What’s a landline?”


Verdict:


- Adam Neeson


'The Black Phone' is showing in cinemas NOW!

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