After jumping ship on Marvel’s Doctor Strange 2, director Scott Derrickson reteams with Ethan Hawke and Blumhouse Productions for a more small-scale horror movie affair. Based on the short story of the same name by Stephen King’s son Joe Hill, The Black Phone details a small US town plagued by a child-abducting clown/magician (Hawke), who leaves only balloons at the scene. Wonder where Hill got that idea from? Choosing between this and Jurassic World 3 to review, Tim Ovenden went for the least depressing of the two.
Following the 13-year-old Finney (Mason Thames), his 11-year-old psychic sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), and their misfortunes with kiddie-snatching ‘The Grabber,’ The Black Phone needs its child performances to deliver. And while they aren’t great, they rarely spoil the film. With Finn Wolfhard too old to play ‘curly haired boy in 80s-set horror’, it’s easy to see Thames as a worthy successor. Hawke too is serviceable, but nothing to write home about nor particularly scary; it’s actually the intriguing, unravelling plot involving the titular black phone that had me invested throughout.
A pivotal scene is ruined by having such an obvious nod to the opening scene of ‘It’
The film opens on a light-hearted school baseball game (is this a cliché because it sure feels like one?), which then leads into spooky opening credits reminiscent of the 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was a neat reference, I felt cool for noticing it and I thought that was all, but no, the movie then name-drops The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on two separate occasions. So much for subtlety, eh. Later, a pivotal scene is ruined by having such an obvious nod to the opening scene of ‘It‘ that it feels like a parody. Reel it in, Scotty.
If you want to make an iconic horror movie villain, you can’t leave out the mask. In functionality, The Grabber’s design is pretty clever, with removable top and bottom sections offering up an array of uses. Aesthetically however, while the different variations of the mask allow Hawke greater opportunities to act, it’s more funny than scary to see The Grabber putting on a frowny-faced mask piece when he’s sad.
At being genuinely scary though? It fails miserably
On the whole, with a few changes and a bolder ending, The Black Phone had the potential to be a great of the genre, but settled on being merely solid. The film closes with too many unanswered questions, most probably an intentional decision, leaving the door open for potential sequels and prequels. Hey, I had fun with it: there are a couple of quality jump scares and it’s a perfectly fine way to spend an evening. At being genuinely scary though? It fails miserably.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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