Director Scott Derrickson returns to his terror roots and partners again with the foremost brand in the genre, Blumhouse, with a new horror thriller. Finney Shaw, a shy but clever 13-year-old boy, is abducted by a sadistic killer and trapped in a soundproof basement where screaming is of little use. When a disconnected phone on the wall begins to ring, Finney discovers that he can hear the voices of the killer’s previous victims. And they are dead set on making sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen to Finney.
What We Thought:
I grew up on movies where kids were kids. Films like The Goonies, The Monster Squad, The Lost Boys had a major influence on me and helped me get into genres like horror and science fiction. For some reason Hollywood got away from movies with kid characters simply doing kid things until projects like Stranger Things reminded them how popular they can be.
That’s what I liked most about The Black Phone, it’s based in the 1970s where kids rode bikes, played ball, had dollhouses and bullied the crap out of each other. These characters feel like genuine people and when things go bad, you feel for them and root for them because they remind you of you at that age.
What I also liked about the film, that adds to its authenticity, is the performance of Ethan Hawke. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to point out Hawke is the kidnapper (he is on the poster above), but forgive me if you didn’t know that. Hawke portrays every child’s nightmare, a creepy dude in a van. If you grew up in the 70s or 80s, every town had an urban legend about a guy with a van usually a clown. My hometown actually had a child molester with a van who worked at a daycare center which made US history so needless to say, creepy dude plus van is nightmare fuel for me. Hawke’s performance makes his character instantly high on the list of sickos in horror. He deadpans his delivery as if there’s nothing wrong with him or what he’s doing. When the crazy doesn’t realize they are crazy, it feels more honest and realistic. I’ve never seen Hawke in a role like this and he’s fantastic in it.
The movie is based on a short story by Joe Hill. If you aren’t familiar with that name, Joe is the son of horror legend Stephen King so you can expect a bit of supernatural in the flick. It’s not just a straight forward child kidnaping story like Prisoners, nope the name of the movie/story is The Black Phone for a reason and it’ll make sense as you watch the movie. The kidnapped boy’s sister has a twist to her I won’t spoil, but she plays a major role in the story as well. These supernatural elements deter from the realism of the movie, but I understand their point. It’s a horror thriller so it needed these supernatural elements to be in the horror genre. I almost wish it didn’t and stuck to being a straight forward thriller, but it wouldn’t be a King/Hill picture without it.
Director Scott Derrickson returns to his horror background for The Black Phone and I dug it. It’s not perfect or anything, but overall I had fun with it. The crowd cheered when you were supposed to cheer and had a good time as well. Sometimes you need something simple that audiences can respond to and that’s what Derrickson does right here. It’s a simple movie with believable characters, some supernatural elements, a creepy bad guy and a strong performance from the young protagonist. For me The Black Phone is…
Cast: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, James Ransone and Ethan Hawke
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Screenplay by: Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill
Based on the short story by Joe Hill
Producers: Jason Blum, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Executive Producers: Ryan Turek, Christopher H. Warner