“One can’t help but marvel at the chilling and magnificent performance of Ethan Hawke,” says Phil in his review of Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone
Every movie fan loves a good scare. But when the plot deals with a terrifying mask-wearing child abductor and some paranormal hijinks, the story takes an ominous turn. And in Scott Derrickson’s latest offering, Ethan Hawke drags a formulaic plot down the rabbit hole to another level of depravity. But with a plot that deals with every parent’s worst nightmare, can The Black Phone overcome the tried and tested formula and deliver something we haven’t seen before? Or is it another run-of-the-mill retread of the horror movies of the past?
Rejoice horror fans because Scott Derrickson just about sticks the landing and delivers a solid horror/thriller. Albeit a lackluster one. But in delivering, in my opinion, a career-best performance, Ethan Hawke has produced a child grabber chilling enough to haunt our dreams for decades. Ordinarily, the vision of a mask-wearing child-killer would be enough to frighten most cinephiles. I’m looking at you, Michael Myers! But what Hawke has produced here will penetrate your primal fears and dial them to eleven.
But alas, The Black Phone isn’t a perfect film. Far from it. In fact, if not for Hawke the movie would probably fall into the bargain bin, waiting in reserve for a rainy day. But thankfully, Hawke’s glowing performance serves to paper over some of the cracks to deliver a movie well worth a watch. As long as you avoid the trailers…because they’ve ruined most of the film!
The plot of The Black Phone is as basic as they come. After being snatched by a child killer aptly known as “The Grabber” by the locals and locked in a soundproof basement, a 13-year-old finds himself at the mercy of his kidnapper. But here’s where things take a ghostly turn. Once locked in the basement, young Finney Blake (Mason Thames) starts receiving calls on a disconnected phone from the killer’s previous victims. All the while, Finney’s sister, played outstandingly by Madeleine McGraw begins to have visions that may hold the key to his salvation. But can she convince the police officers investigating the string of disappearances of her senses before it’s too late?
Lensed from the perspective of Finney; the teenage victim, director Scott Derrickson quickly sets the tone for what is a chilling new horror/thriller. In time-warping us back to the 70s, Derrickson grounds his movie in an outdated era. When cell phones and social media were nothing more than pipedreams. And in doing so, quickly establishes a sense of true dread and foreboding. Especially among the neighborhood’s parents as they helplessly wait for the next child to turn up missing. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. And Derrickson expertly harnesses those fears and projects them through the screen tenfold.
FINNEY & GWEN
Led brilliantly by the young duo of Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw, who both deliver INCREDIBLE performances here; Derrickson frames the movie as a sister’s quest to rescue her brother. After introducing us to the young stars who will carry the story forwards, Finney is snatched and we encounter the new killer on the block. And believe me when I say, Ethan Hawke’s “The Grabber” will curdle your blood and have you looking over your shoulder for years to come.
From the outset, The Grabber is presented as a twisted and demented psychopath. One that takes pleasure in playing mind games with his victims and reveling in every minute of their torture. It is chilling to watch. But as the movie unfolds, one can’t help but marvel at the magnificent performance of Ethan Hawke. Whereas the masked killers of the past speak very little if at all, The Grabber slips effortlessly into the Darth Vader role; constantly teasing his victims and daring them to present some misguided resistance. It’s scintillating stuff that will have you on the edge of your seat for the 1hr 42-minute runtime. And as the plot unfolds, the more unhinged he becomes…and the payoff is spectacular!
That being said, after you look past the energetic performances of its two child stars, and the spectacular performance of Ethan Hawke; The Black Phone fails to inject anything new into the genre. Yes, the supernatural elements add to the mystique and dial the tension to eleven. But aside from a few well-placed jump scares, the plot pretty much reverts to type and goes through the motions until its eventual conclusion. It’s a massive missed opportunity. And, if I’m honest, I expected more from the teaming of Derrickson and horror juggernaut Blumhouse. That being said, it is hilarious in places and the rapport between Gwen Blake’s Madeline and the investigating police officers is the stuff dreams are made of! And believe me, you’ll never look at your kids in the same light again!
Moving onto the supporting cast, and much like any tentpole movie of the modern era; the success of Derrickson’s latest offering hinges on the performance of its cast. And I’m pleased to report that even the supporting cast fit the story like a glove. We are instantly invested in these characters which is a testament to Derrickson’s vision. Whether it’s Jeremy Davies’ tortured performance as Finney and Gwen’s overly abusive father; or E. Roger Mitchell’s dependable spell as Detective Miller; every member of the cast gives it their all. And it pays off in spades.
But aside from its two child stars who all but steal the show here, this film belongs to Ethan Hawke. His bloodcurdling spell as The Grabber is the stuff nightmares are made of. And if there is any justice, he will be recognized for this performance in the awards season. Yes, it’s that good. His terrifying nuances will have your skin crawling every time he is on screen. And his voice will haunt your dreams for eternity. Ignore me at your peril!
With its haunting 70s retro vibe, a genre-defining sadistic killer, and the remarkable performances of its cast; The Black Phone just about sticks the landing. Does it deliver anything we haven’t seen before? No. But what it does boast is an abundance of wonderful actors at the top of their game. And a visionary director who set out to drag us back to the 70s kicking and screaming for a rendezvous with a new breed of child killer. And for that reason alone, The Black Phone is worth a watch. In all its disturbing glory.
In a time of superheroes, dinosaurs, and Ghostbusters, it’s refreshing to see an old-fashioned villain come to the fore in such a spine-chilling way. And when The Grabber is waiting to play “naughty boy” at the top of the stairs, you had better hope his sights aren’t set on you. It may just be the last game you’ll ever play…
The Black Phone will release via Universal Pictures in cinemas on Wednesday, June 22.
Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!