A haunting and well-crafted horror film

After the departure of director Scott Derrickson Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness due to creative differences, Derrickson and writer C. Robert Cargill teamed up to adapt a short story by Joe Hill. After premiering at Fantastic Fest, audiences around the world are treated to The black phone, a supernatural horror film featuring a kidnapped child and a phone capable of communicating with the dead. Nothing beats the feeling of a good summer horror movie, and this movie delivers almost everything you’d expect from the genre.

The black phone is a suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat thriller with strong direction from Derrickson. Blumhouse movies can be pretty hit or miss, and this one is a hit, starting with its opening scene. It’s not scary in the traditional sense, do a better job of leaving things to your imagination. The film involves a series of missing children taken by The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) and introduces us to the protagonist, Finney (Mason Thames). Finney lives with his sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), and his father, Terrence (Jeremy Davies).

Derrickson and Cargill deliver an excellent first act that sets up the world of a 1970s Denver suburb before the horrific inciting incident. Finney and Gwen share an alcoholic and abusive father, and Finney’s school life is plagued with violence from bullies. He quickly establishes himself as a character incapable of defending himself, which is why the scenario forces him to follow a path where he must learn. After meeting The Grabber on the street pretending to be a magician, Finney is kidnapped and trapped in a basement with nothing but a bed and a ringing phone on the wall.

From here, The black phone takes an ominous path, combining a confined survival thriller with supernatural elements. The unsettling musical score and sound design complete the feeling of endless dread as Finney is put in a situation where he must find an escape. Much of the film takes place in a confined space as you goad the hero into escaping. Storytelling-wise, the film stands out for the way it builds backstory and reveals twists piece by piece. Derrickson takes his time ripping off a band-aid that reveals a layered, suspenseful narrative.

Hawke’s performance is phenomenal. Lately, Hollywood gave us a tour of Michael Myers, Ghostface, and last year’s forgettable villain there is someone in your house. However, The Grabber is an antagonist you won’t soon forget, as he’s a unique new masked killer. Her creepy mask changes depending on her mood, and you feel her menace in every inch of her presence. Hawke manages to strike fear through his voice as every child’s worst nightmare comes to life.

The main cast members also offer excellent performances. Thames and McGraw are two child actors who take up a lot of screen time and do many complex and emotional scenes. The film features many uncomfortable scenes that include violence with children, and while it’s not easy to watch, you have to hand it to the actors to sell these situations enough to make them believable. The only performance that doesn’t quite work is James Ransone as Max, a character investigating The Grabber’s location. Her performance feels like it belongs in a different film, tonally removed from the rest of the movie.

Part of the plot of The Grabber is the mystery behind him and the fact that he is irremediably evil with no purpose behind his despicable actions. While some may have hoped for more characterization from him, he serves as a fantastic antagonist in The black phone, a film that does a lot with its simple and exciting concept. The film may not offer many scares beyond the general heart-racing tone, but the jump scares are well crafted and the final act is even better. Overall, this is a triumphant return to the horror genre from a talented director.

SCORE: 7/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7 equates to “Good”. A successful entertainment that is worth the detour, but which may not please everyone.

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