The Black Phone; A Good Ole Fashion Strategic Horror Film. Grade: B
The Black Phone takes place in a town, where young children are suddenly abducted by a strange man known as The Grabber (Ethan Hawke). Basically The Grabber poses as a helpless magician with a goofy black hat, has a mysterious black van, as his trademark is a black balloon. Here in this town we are centered around a young boy named Finney (Mason Thames), who has a mint arm however when it comes to facing bullies and such… He is beyond helpless. Finney one day encounters The Grabber as he felt he was just a helpless man, but he quickly gets abducted as he’s now trapped in a sound proof basement. Finney will try to lure his way out of this ordeal, as he’ll get some help from some voices heard in a disconnected black phone, in which each voice gives him clues on how to escape this mess.
Scott Derrickson filmmaker of The Black Phone has had a history with horror films. Sinister was a really good horror film that was effective in the disturbing department, The Exorcism of Emily Rose I felt was an average course case drama as the horror elements weren’t as effective, and Deliver Us From Evil was meh. So when I heard this film was acclaimed to be scarier than Sinister, it surely has caught my interest, not to mention it has gotten a lot of buzz thanks to film festivals and such. While I don’t feel The Black Phone is scarier than Sinister by any means, I will say it at least it’s a good ole fashion quality watch of a horror film.
The best thing going for The Black Phone is without a doubt the strategic element of the film. I genuinely enjoyed the whole concept of the young kid receiving clues from this what could be a broken down phone, as each kid tells him what he could use in order to free him out of this house. I especially enjoyed how each tool Finney had in his disposal, had significant use, like there wasn’t a single item that didn’t have a purpose. I won’t spoil it: But how a meat freezer played off in the end of it all… That was pretty clever.
I felt the whole character development of the character Finney was actually well put together and very satisfying. It’s really all about Finney standing up for himself against a greater force than him, as he learns over the course of time to become a stronger minded being when a significant threat is against him.
The supernatural element was kind of neat and a bit goofy, in a good way. Like the whole ordeal with Finney’s sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) having these whacky visions in her dreams, that could possibly help her find her brother. What I think is effective about this supernatural element is the fact it’s a bit more realistic than it is fantasy, I mean people have experience Deja Vu all the time in their dreams, so it’s possible one like Gwen can experience this in real life. The whole supernatural element with the black phone was also kind of neat too, as it’s more into the supernatural side. But I will say for a good period of time: I felt the voices on the phone and the phone especially was actually working, so it does play with your mind a bit.
The horror element while I wish it was more effective in the disturbing department, I will say it was good for what it is. For a film to be labeled “Scarier” than Sinister, I expected to be heavily disturbed. The film does have a couple effective horror moments. Moments in which can be unsettling, an effective jump scare moment, and of course an effective slasher like sequence in the final minutes which was AWESOME! I wish it was a little bit more effective in the disturbing department like Sinister, has a couple moments but didn’t feel the same level that film had in terms of scary.
Surprisingly enough this film does feature a few occasional moments of comedy, as I thought those moments were delightful. It’s quality comedic moments in which resembled the time period of this film, I thought Madeleine McGraw nailed all her comedic moments as there were a few effective laugh out moments.
Couple other flaws I would like to add. There are some weak acting moments here and there, especially involving a sequence with an abusive alcoholic father whipping a child. I have to say I couldn’t take it seriously since the father had a mullet… I can’t help but laugh at this southern stereotype, it just was presented very goofy where it’s supposed to be a very upsetting scene. The child actor whom was crying in this sequence didn’t execute it correctly either, I loved her performance in this film but that one lone sequence felt very iffy all around.
I will say I felt underwhelmed with how this film used Ethan Hawke as The Grabber. Don’t get me wrong: Ethan Hawke does a pretty good job, but I have to agree with others criticism about how he’s utilized in this film. An actor like Ethan Hawke who can be extremely great, especially in the facial expression department… He shouldn’t be hiding behind a mask, where it felt like he’s being held back on delivering a terrifying sinister performance. So in a way I did felt underwhelmed by the way he was used in this film.
I almost forgot: There’s one odd ball character that I felt was extremely unnecessary, where it’s a bit confusing to follow. I will say the pay off with this character was much appreciated, since he was apart of the best entertaining horror like sequence hands down. However everything about this character… You just feel very confused by the whole ordeal.
I feel audiences are going to have a fun time at the movies this summer with this horror film. It’s effective in many areas, as it delivers a thoroughly engaging story from start to finish.
Overall, The Black Phone was a solid ole fashion horror film. I recommend checking this one out, gather up your friends or get a date night going and have a fun time at the movies! I ain’t gonna lie: This film made me wish I was seeing it with the love of my life… Distance can be a pain in the ass sometimes I can not lie... Even though it’s reasonable distance, but still.-Mitch Smietana