Riding on the wave of eighties nostalgia, The Black Phone is a mildly entertaining thriller offering nothing new. It’s based on a short story written by Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son, something that’s going to become painfully apparent from minute one. So, you will feel like you’re watching a slightly watered-down version of It without the clown. Luckily, we have The Grabber here, not to be confused with The Grabbers from The Grabbers or Graboids from Tremors. Actually, he’s one of the few positive aspects of this movie as Ethan Hawke gave one hell of a performance. It saddens me to say that most of the kids were quite mediocre but then again so was the script.
Since The Black Phone is directed by Scott Derrickson of his The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister fame, you can expect suspense and a couple of effective gimmicks. I guess that phone ringing is probably the best one. This is common trick filmmakers use to grab your attention and I started to notice it in music as well. Speaking of attention grabbing, we also have to talk about the mask. Ethan Hawke’s character, child kidnapper The Grabber wears several nightmarish masks throughout the film and they all look terrifying. They were designed by Tom Savini (Friday the 13th, The Prowler, Day of the Dead).
As a jaded horror fan, I must admit that I didn’t find The Black Phone scary. However, a lot of people seem to find it quite nasty and this is the reason why the movie got a wider release. I was wondering why this run-of-the-mill horror movie was getting all this buzz and it turns out that this is why. Initial screenings were so good that they had to postpone the premiere and focus on marketing. Which proved to be the right decision as the movie made around $120 million against a $14 million budget.
It is the year of our lord Satan 1978 and the suburbs of Denver are gripped by fear. The Grabber is on the loose, snatching kids off the street with ease and disappearing into the night. Additionally, he seems to be taunting police, leaving balloons and other evidence at the scene of the crime. Young Finney is aware of these events but he doesn’t let them discourage him from living his best life. However, he will soon change his mind.
So, we have kids growing up in the late seventies, supernatural elements and villains, these are some Stranger Things, I’ll tell you that! I’ll walk myself out. The thing that annoys me the most about The Black Phone is the lack of character development. We never really learn why The Grabber does what he does and also the rest of the characters are stereotypical. However, I will have to admit there were a couple of effective scenes with Finney’s father and Robin.
Just like Joe Hill’s last movie In The Tall Grass, The Black Phone is a commercial thriller good for one viewing. Horns is probably his best movie and if you’re looking for something different and entertaining, do check it out.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Joe Hill, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, Jeremy Davies, Madeleine McGraw, Rebecca Clarke, E. Roger Mitchell
Fun Facts: The black and white film with the red blood that Finney is watching on TV is The Tingler.