Scott Derrickson, director of Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Doctor Strange, returned to Blumhouse with a new horror/thriller film called The Black Phone, based on a short story pf the same name by Joe Hill.
It is 1978 in a suburban town near Denver, Colorado and the town was being terrorized by a child kidnapper that had been dubbed “The Grabber” (Ethan Hawke). After five kids had been taken, Finney (Mason Thames), a soft-spoken, timid teen with a sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), became the next kid abducted.
Gwen had been having some dreams that, at times, came true, but this was something that her abusive father (Jeremy Davies, Faraday from LOST) was very angry about. However, the police were interested in how Gwen knew some details from the case that had not been released to the public. Gwen was not the soft-spoken member of the family and she showed off her serious spunk.
Finney wound up in a basement with the Grabber, who wore a changing devil mask, not knowing what was going to happen. There was a disconnected black phone on the wall that kept ringing and Finney eventually discovered that the phone was a way to communicate with the Grabber’s previous victims. The other kids tried to give Finney ways to escape before it was too late.
This movie was just full of tension and thrilling moments. Scott Derrickson did an outstanding job of creating such an atmosphere of anxiety that you were desperate to have Finney survive his encounter or for Gwen to be able to make sense out of her visions. The scene between Madeleine McGaw and Jeremy Davies early in the film was so uncomfortable it made you just feel it.
The first act of this movie truly was mostly character situations as we saw a couple of other kids get taken before Finney was and this section of the film helped us understand our protagonist and the people in his orbit.
Speaking of our protagonist, this film is almost completely placed on the backs of Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw, and these two young actors absolutely dominated their roles. They provided us with distinct personalities that were easy to root for and showed us the strength of both of them. Gwen may have stolen every scene she was in in the first half of the movie when she exhibited the passion inside the young lady.
We got a great character arc for Finney too as he has to develop from a punching bag into someone who would not take it any more.
I have gone this far without talking about Ethan Hawke and that is wrong, because he is brilliant as the antagonist of the movie. The Grabber shows several sides to his personality as he is interacting with Finney and he wears different masks with different facial expressions depending on his emotional states. It is an amazing character detail, and helps the character out since we do not see Ethan Hawks real face until right at the end of the film.
The film is shot beautifully, especially since the bulk of the movie takes place in a small basement with nondescript walls. So much is done with this setting that the production design is fantastic.
This was an exceptional film with great performances and a huge level of suspense.