The Black Phone Review
The Black Phone (2021) Film Review, a movie directed by Scott Derrickson, written by Joe Hill, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill and starring Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, E. Roger Mitchell, Troy Rudeseal, James Ransone, Miguel Cazarez Mora, Rebecca Clarke, J. Gaven Wilde, Spencer Fitzgerald, Jordan Isaiah White, Brady Ryan, Tristan Pravong, Jacob Moran, Brady Hepner and Banks Repeta.
In 2012, Scott Derrickson created one of the most efficient horror films of all-time with Sinister which starred Ethan Hawke as a writer who moves into a home which you could definitely say was haunted. Sinister was a perfect movie in almost every way. You could probably imagine detractors of the movie telling Derrickson that it was too dark and needed a happier ending. It didn’t but you could picture people thinking it was just too dark. Hawke has teamed up with Derrickson for the new scare fest, The Black Phone. It’s a successful movie to be sure and it takes risks similar to the ones Sinister took but it’s just not as scary as the 2012 picture, for whatever reason. The Black Phone is, however, without a doubt, enormously entertaining. Hawke is good in it, but it is the two central young performers in the movie (Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw) who steal the picture.
Finney (Mason Thames) is your typical male kid in the early stages of being a teenager who gets bullied occasionally but is pretty normal. His sister Gwen (Madeleine Mc Graw in the best performance in the movie) has visions that include those which can help determine the actions of a twisted serial killer known as The Grabber (Hawke). This murderer is one who preys mostly on young teenage boys and wears odd disguises that make him look like a monster. When we first encounter him, he’s posing as a magician and has black balloons in his van. He lures his young victims in, and he couldn’t be creepier as a character.
Finney’s kidnapping is the basis for the film’s plot where the young kid is taken by the Grabber and kept confined to a basement where the black phone of the film’s title rings with voices of the deceased young victims of the Grabber on the other end. Gwen is the one who can tap into her own dreams to see if she can find a way to find the precise location of the Grabber. E. Roger Mitchell portrays Detective Wright who knows that Gwen is seeing things in her visions that seem to have a definite correspondence to real occurrences involving some victims of the Grabber.
Jeremy Davies plays Terrence who is the father of Finney and Gwen. Terrence is a really underwritten character because he beats Gwen in a horrifying scene but later turns out to seemingly be an OK guy as the plot further develops. This movie is set in the 1970’s it seems from the music, clothes and hairstyles. Perhaps that is why he gets away with child abuse, but I absolutely hated the character Davies plays here and I wanted to see him face a stiffer punishment for the abuse he brings upon his daughter. With that said, the scene where Terrence beats Gwen also has the best acting. As Gwen cries and screams back at her dad, one can’t help but feel for Gwen and hope she can get away from the abuse she is forced to endure from Terrence.
The Black Phone is not without comic relief. I liked the scene where Gwen prays to God that she can dream things that can lead her to pinpoint the location of the Grabber and save her brother. Gwen hears her dad coming and gets up but then runs back to a praying position really fast when she hears her father getting closer to add, “Amen.” What’s a prayer without the necessary closure to make if official? It’s a very humorous and effective scene.
This film could have benefited from a stronger background on Hawke’s psychopath character. We don’t really get to know why he does what he does. Nothing could justify his sick actions, but this character could have been developed more. He basically sits around waiting for Finney to try to come upstairs and we also wonder what he does for a living that has allowed him to have two homes (a fact we find out later in the movie).
Still, Derrickson’s movie is eerily effective. Hawke plays his role almost entirely behind a mask, but the actor is very terrifying here. Mason Thames is the perfect choice to play Finney and it’s always interesting every time this character picks up the “black phone” with its voices of the dead kids on the other side of the line. This concept is first-rate though the script also makes the rather odd choice of having The Grabber unable to hear the sound when the black phone rings. It could have been more compelling to have Hawke’s character at least suspect that Finney is planning an escape from the basement too. The Grabber comes off as a bit naive instead.
Madeleine McGraw is ultimately the best part of The Black Phone. She has some priceless line deliveries, and her character draws the viewer into the action whenever she appears on screen. This movie is not as scary as Sinister was although it has moments that could make you jump out of your seat. If you didn’t see Sinister, you may appreciate the new picture a bit more but it’s still a solid horror movie.
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