Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Plot: 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.
Review: Is there anything sweeter than getting exactly what you hoped for!
Directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson, who gave us Sinister, The Black Phone is adapted by the novella of the same name and takes the real life horror of child abductions and murder and adds a sinister (see what I did there?) paranormal twist to the mix that takes this thrilling story straight into horror territory.
Of all the horror movies coming out this year this was the one I was most excited and worried for. As a fan of Joe Hill’s eponymous novella/short story (he also worked with Derrickson to adapt the story for the screen) I had high hope. But seeing the trailer I knew they had changed some things, such as the look of The Grabber played by Ethan Hawke (The Purge, Sinister, Daybreakers) and, while still excited, I was a bit worried it might not work out. To my utter delight, The Black Phone strikes the perfect balance between suspense and horror while ensuring character development never suffers.
Set in the late 70s The Black Phone tells the story of a young boy named Finney (Mason Thames) and his younger but whip-smart sister Gwen (Madeline McGraw) who live in a small town with their alcoholic father (Jeremy Davies). Finney is a shy and somewhat cowardly boy who unfortunately has to deal with bullies at his school and at home. But worst of all is the fact young boys are going missing, victims of a man the kids call “The Grabber”, and one day Finney is unfortunate enough to cross his path. Locked in a basement with no hope of escape, the only thing to keep his company is an old black phone which sits disconnected on the wall. Disconnected from the living that is.
When your cast consists of just a handful of people character development is key. You have to ensure your viewers connect with them so deeply they become completely invested in their story and their survival. The writing for these characters does just that and the actors who portray them do a fantastic job of taking it all to the next level. Not one of them feels lazy or uninteresting to watch and when kid actors are involved that is quite the feat.
There’s no way this movie would’ve worked as well as it did if Mason Thames and Madeline McGraw didn’t captivate us with their sibling roles as Finn and Gwen. And with the stellar directing by Derrickson you get enough time to get to know them well before everything goes badly, that you’ll be on the edge of your seat the entire runtime, hoping against hope they make it out alive. These two young actors were near perfect in their roles with McGraw stealing the show every moment she was on screen.
But we all know a horrifying story needs a horrific villain to truly put your hair on edge and that’s what we get from Ethan Hawke as The Grabber. Not only is the design of his mask genuinely off-putting but the cadence of his voice and the lack of backstory all add up to a character that makes you want to know, “What exactly makes this guy tick?” I know there are folks out there who won’t like how little is known about this character but for me it works and Hawke puts in one of his most memorable performances to date. I don’t need to know about his motivations and I certainly don’t want to sympathize with him. He’s a monster who kidnaps and kills children and he’s the thing Finney needs to get away from. Freddy, Michael, The Creeper; they were all genuinely scary when we knew as little as possible about them, and the same goes for The Grabber.
Another actor who deserves praise is Jeremy Davies as the kids’ father. There’s a scene in this movie that was more difficult to watch than all the supernatural scares combined. In actuality I’m sure it may even be triggering for some people, but where I think Davies (and the writing) deserves recognition is in what comes after. This is a man who is terrified of losing his children and deals with that in a terrible way, but the actor brings such passion to the role I couldn’t help but sympathize with him as the story went on.
I could sing this movie’s praises till the cows come home and I’m sure there are those who will see it as just another average horror movie and wonder what the hell I’m going on about. But it’s simple really dash—The Black Phone is perfectly paced, genuinely suspenseful with just the right amount of jump scares. The story is nuanced and explores trauma and abuse in intelligent ways that never feel exploitative, features terrific performances by both the adults and kids alike, but most of all, THIS is the kind of movie I will enjoy revisiting over and over again.
Proving you don’t have to go over the top to deliver a solid horror, The Black Phone is my favorite horror movie of the year so far and all others to come will have a very high bar to jump if they want to beat it.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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You can check out my video review below:
So have you seen The Black Phone? What did you think of it? And you can check out more great horror movie content below: