Serial Killer films live on in Scott Derrickson‘s return to the horror genre in The Black Phone. Ethan Hawke terrorises childhood memories in 1970’s Denver Colorado. If a phone rings, answer it…It may save your life.
This is based on the Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son) 2004 short story of the same name and extending that short to a feature length film is no easy feat. We find ourselves in 1978 Denver, Finney (Mason Thames) and his little sister Gwen (Madeline McGraw) live at home with their alcoholic dad (Jeremy Davis). The area is already on edge all thanks to a sadistic child abductor-killer who has been nicknamed The Grabber, Finney becomes the latest kid to be abducted. Kept locked up in a cold, dark creepy basement that’s been soundproof. It has a black phone on the wall, which the grabber says doesn’t work or is connected rings. From these calls Finney hears the voices of the Grabber’s previous victims who are determined to make sure Finney won’t be the next victim.
From the opening credits and what’s plastered on walls, news papers, tv, sightings of black vans, we learn a little about how The Grabber works. The Black Phone could be seen as a straight up serial killer film or a horror, that could be up to you the viewer. Either way both do work and this does have jump scares that are genuinely scary. Hawke himself wear a mask or part mask and appears as if he was a malevolent force or presence adds that extra dimension to the film. We don’t learn why he wears the mask or even his true motives. Some might say this as a negative, it also add s mystery to his character, building him into some sort of urban legend. One minute he’s thinks he’s someone full of benevolence then snap of his fingers overrun by rage.
The stars of the film are Thames and McGraw they both carry the film really well. It’s a coming of age story, Finney a young boy walking the thin line of being a child, discovering life, girls and making friends. This is a coming of age story that sees him face violence, bullying his sister Gwen with abuse. What are these dreams Gwen gets? Does she possess something she doesn’t understand, why does her daddy beat her for this? We mustn’t forget Ethan Hawke who rarely under performs even if that film isn’t great. His body language that creates the monster as well as his voice which occasionally has that child-like tone reminded me of Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise the clown.
The 1970’s setting feels truly authentic. From the interiors, the fashion, the packaging, even the grainy look of the film feels above nostalgic. Derrickson himself was brought up in Denver in 1970’s in a neighbourhood that had violence, kids fighting and even the parental discipline. Ted Bundy who killed in Colorado the state Denver is in could be an inspiration to the grabber.
The Black Phone narrative may have not worked at times, it was overall a chilling unnerving film that tonally keeps on track until the end.
Horror, Thriller | 2022 | 15 | 3rd October 2022 (UK) | Blu-ray, DVD | Universal Pictures | Dir: Scott Derrickson | Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, James Ransone, E. Roger Mitchell