Creeping its way into UK cinemas today, and arriving in the US on Friday, is the supernatural horror movie, The Black Phone. The film, directed by Scott Derrickson and based on Joe Hill’s short story of the same name, stars Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, and Madeleine McGraw, and tells the story of a kidnapped boy who discovers he can communicate with the dead via a mysterious telephone.
In the movie, the year is 1978 and after five children go missing in a town in Colorado, school boy Finney Shaw becomes the sixth victim when he is abducted by a sinister figure known as The Grabber. Knocked unconscious and bundled into a van, Finney wakes up to find The Grabber has locked him inside a soundproof basement, with no means of escape.
The only items inside the room are a bed, a toilet, some old carpet, and a disconnected landline telephone. He picks up the receiver on the phone, but with no connection to the mainline, it is useless.
Frantic, Finney searches for a means of escape. But with no way out and no one able to hear his cries for help, his situation seems hopeless.
That is, until the telephone begins to ring. Finney picks up the receiver and is shocked to hear a voice on the other end.
Finney believes the voice belongs to one of The Grabber’s other victims. The voice offers Finney some advice on how to survive and possibly escape his prison, and this proves to be a lifeline.
Over the next few days as the police search for the missing boy, Finney receives further phone calls from The Grabber’s victims. Meanwhile, Finney’s sister Gwen has started having prophetic dreams about the abductions, which could prove vital in rescuing her brother.
Now, before I go any further, I should say that if you’re a fan of creepy little horror movies, Stephen King-style stories, or just really good films, then you will want to check out The Black Phone. No major preamble here to weigh up the pros and cons of this picture, because The Black Phone is a ruddy good film.
If you want tension, suspense, some genuinely terrifying moments, and a narrative that is sure to hold your attention for over 100-minutes, then you will find it in this movie. The Black Phone has all of this and a whole lot more, and is frighteningly fun.
Although, maybe ‘fun’ is not the right word. The Black Phone does include a few specks of humour here and there, largely to relieve the tension, but this is a serious horror about child abduction, murder, and the evil that lurks behind closed doors.
This is a sinister film, with a dark edge. It is a period piece, which sets its story in suburban America, and serves up one of the most disturbing villains in recent times.
I’ll get onto that villain in one moment, but sticking with the tone and feel of the film, if I was to boil it down to its base form, I’d say the whole movie is reminiscent of the opening scene from the 1990 TV mini-series, IT. Remember the sequence with George, the rainstorm, and Pennywise the Clown? Remember how creepy and terrifying that was? Well, that’s what The Black Phone feels like throughout.
It is atmospheric, disturbing, and is guaranteed to make you jump at least once (possibly more). It is also expertly put together by director Scott Derrickson, who is no stranger to weird and wonderful horror, having previously helmed The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), and Sinister (2012), as well as Marvel’s Doctor Strange (2016).
For this film, Derrickson re-teams with Sinister’s Ethan Hawke, who plays the scene-stealing role of The Grabber. Like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees, The Grabber is now a horror icon, and a huge part of this is down to the way Hawke plays him.
Hawke is a fine actor any day of the week, but he’s not just on top form in The Black Phone, he is alarmingly good, and gives a performance which is second to none. He throws himself into this role with such force, that he makes this odious monster into someone who is both completely terrifying and extremely fascinating to watch in equal measure.
Hawke brings so much menace to the screen that it becomes nightmare-inducing. And he does all this while wearing a series of twisted masks.
Throughout the movie The Grabber wears a collection of face coverings, with each just as horrid as the last. The masks are used to strike terror into the hearts of his victims, as well as the audience, and yet they only ever enhance Hawke’s performance, they never cover it. He is one scary guy with or without the mask. I can’t overstate how good Hawke is in this film.
But Hawke’s not the only actor who delivers in this picture, the other main stars of The Black Phone are Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw, who play brother and sister duo, Finney and Gwen respectively. These two young actors have a bright future ahead of themselves, and are fantastic in this film.
Both actors demonstrate real strength with their characters, especially considering some of the very dark places they have to go to. They also carry huge sections of the movie all by themselves and are always incredibly captivating throughout.
Thames in particular gets some very strong scenes which are tense and incredibly nerve-racking, including one involving a combination lock and an escape attempt. He pulls off this scene, and every other, with pure conviction and is one of the many highlights of the movie.
Outside of the actors, the story is thrilling, the score is suitably atmospheric, and the film knows exactly when to delve into darkness. The picture never outstays its welcome, and Derrickson builds enough tension that by the time the movie reaches its dramatic conclusion, it all becomes edge-of-the-seat stuff.
In fact, if you watch this movie at your local multiplex and your bum doesn’t come close to wiggling off the chair, I’d probably check your pulse to see if you are still alive. Heck, you may be slipping away.
Either way, as a horror fan I thoroughly enjoyed The Black Phone and highly recommend it. I can’t wait to watch it again, and will most certainly be giving it another viewing come Halloween.