The reason I put The Black Phone on my most anticipated film list is that it was one of those films that just captured my attention instantly. It’s a weird sensation to explain but something deep down inside me was immediately drawn to it. I felt that this was one of those open-door films, something that could lead you in any direction and you could speculate how all these different elements could all come together. So after finally seeing the finished product, The Black Phone is one that is very much worth seeing, so don’t ignore your conscience on this one.
Scott Derrickson the director is a name that rose to fame in the horror circle with his 2012 film Sinister and having watched it in preparation for The Black Phone, many will notice a similar stylistic look. Just as it worked for what Sinister was going for, the style works here. It is most obvious with the number of scenes that are filmed to look like it was captured on a Super 8 film. Of course, most of The Black Phone is shot in the traditional 2.39:1 format, but these Super 8 looking scenes are reserved primarily for dream sequences and give us an atmosphere that keeps us focused yet always on edge.
The atmosphere in general is possibly the film’s biggest strength. With The Black Phone, there are no holds barred. Not with the antagonist, but the environment of the protagonist. The original short story the film is based on was written by Joe Hill, the son of Stephen King, and you can clearly see that Derrickson brought the “King” approach to writing children. The environment in which these children live is realistically brutal. There’s over-the-top bullying, domestic violence, profanity towards adults, etcetera. Often the biggest problem with having kids in lead roles is that the characters aren’t written as kids, they’re written as adults writing what they believe kids are like. The Black Phone looks to cut through the proverbial veil of innocence and just be honest with how kids behave and talk.
Our main child protagonist is Finney (Mason Thames) and the film makes it incredibly easy to root for him. He lives with his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), who experiences psychic dreams of the child abductor The Grabber (Ethan Hawke), as well as his father Terrence (Jeremy Davies) his alcoholic and abusive widowed father. You see the tough life he has, having to take care of his father regularly so he doesn’t get too drunk, and he gets bullied a lot by others at school. it’s a pretty terrible life, so seeing him grow his courage to stand up for himself, especially against The Grabber is extremely satisfying. Ethan Hawke as The Grabber however is the star of the show. This is an exceptionally chilling performance from Hawke considering that he spends most of the film behind a mask, meaning that his performance heavily relies on his line delivery. The mask he wears is already guaranteed to be an instant horror classic, mainly due to the interchangeable mouthpiece that reflects the character’s mood.
As previously mentioned, The Black Phone is based on a short story, and in all honestly seeing the film unfold, I could pretty much tell that it was because there are bits and pieces that don’t exactly add up to a satisfying state. For instance, I do almost wish that the film would have explained how Drew is able to have these psychic dreams. Aside from the film mentioning her deceased mother was also able to dream like her, it’s not entirely made clear. Being a story from the son of Stephen King, maybe she can Shine like Danny. The supernatural element is done in a pretty creative way, I love how you see the spirits of other kids The Grabber has killed and their voices sound like they would do on the phone, but it’s just kind of a fact of this world that we have to accept. I imagine if this story was extended to a novel-length story it would be explained.
There is also a character in this film called Max, an eccentric man who is the stereotypical conspiracy theorist character working on tracking down The Grabber. He only appears/is mentioned three times in the film and because of this, I got the impression that the filmmakers simply didn’t know what to do with him. Grated his character pays off well, but there were times when it felt like these characters didn’t have a purpose but to be the stereotypical conspiracy theorist you see in many films with a mystery. if you can’t properly evaluate the importance of the character, neither can the audience.
The Black Phone probably will divide audiences, but I think something everyone can agree on is that this film was made with a lot of passion from a director with a clear vision. This is easily the most impressive film Scott Derrickson has made, and that’s including the much more visually striking Doctor Strange. The child actors and Ethan Hawke give it their all, with Hawke especially giving it a million percent. Most importantly, after seeing The Black Phone, it has changed me to believe my gut instincts a lot more. Apparently, Derrickson left Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness to direct this film, and I’m glad he did because I don’t think he could have put this much passion into an MCU film, which just goes to show if you want real passion from visionary filmmakers, let them be passionate about filmmaking.
Final Result: 8/10 – Very Good
Have you seen The Black Phone? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
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