“After being abducted by a child killer and locked in a soundproof basement, a 13-year-old boy starts receiving calls on a disconnected phone from the killer’s previous victims.”

Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Joe Hill, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Gargill
Staring: Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw
Release Date: June 24, 2022

I am going to say this first, and I swear it is not all a bad thing. I was expecting more for The Black Phone (2022). DIrector Scott Derrickson’s adaption of Joe Hill’s short story does not evoke nightmares, but it does bring about more fun than I would have expected. There were no scare-me-out-of-my-pants moments in The Black Phone, but I was on the edge of my seat with intrique more often than I would have thought.

Ethan Hawke plays The Grabber, a serial child killer who has been tormenting a Denver suburb. In this small quiet town, numerous kids have gone missing. The police are stumped and no one has answers. The Black Phone follows the kidnapping of Finney Blake (Mason Thames), an awkward child without many friends and a home life as horrific as the criminal act of The Grabber itself.

Finney has a sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), who is afflicted with the same ability of her mother; having the ability to have physic dreams. Premonitions, if you will. The siblings are strongly connected, due in large to their reliance on each other in recovery of their abusive father. With Finney taken by The Grabber, his friendship with his sister allows her to have more vivid dreams. Her special ability proofs to be key as the The Black Phone progresses and the Finney’s horror unfolds.

So what is The Black Phone in The Black Phone? In the darkness of his prison, Finney has accompanied by few things; a mattress, some carpet, and a phone. A Black Phone. The Grabber is profound in his statements that the phone does not work. But I ask you Mr. Grabber, then why does it ring?

The supernatural and physic element of The Black Phone does not stop with Gwen and her dreams. The phone rings for Finney, and the voices coming out of the phone are of The Grabber’s victims. The dead children speak from the grave to Finney. They give him cryptic advice on how to escape the basement. They give Finney insights into The Grabber’s tendencies. His sleeping habits. His desires. These voices one the phone are Finney’s lifelines in the fight for his life.

The Black Phone feels like a Stephen King book. Joe Hill may like his story to stand on its own merits, and on its own it might be fantastic. Speaking strictly about the movie, The Black Phone addresses the supernatural with a profound sense of reality. The fantastical seems mundane, yet also captivating. The characters in the movie don’t fret at the strange voices speaking to them. Rather they take it in and embrace them. Sure frustration can pop up when the voices they hear make no sense, but the stress is never out of fear. It is out of desperation. The need to solve something. The need to survive.

It was the vibe and tone of The Black Phone that draws my attention. The story is simple enough, but there is a je ne sais quoi to how Scott Derrickson directed this movie.

Finney Blake (Mason Thames) and Gwen (Madeleine McGraw)

There are striking visuals sprinkled throughout the movie. The shots of The Grabber atop of the staircase are slow, prolonging and pensive. Much like how The Grabber is pretending to fall asleep and lure the kids to coming upstairs, I think it is safe to say that Derrickson is lulling the audience to comfotability.

The Black Phone has the pace of a herky-jerky point guard in their prime. The ability to change pace doesn’t allow the defender to get comfortable. Viewers are put in the same quandary watching The Black Phone. There are the slow zooms of the camera and slow movements of The Grabber, but counter those with the sudden flash moments of Finney’s phone friends or the explosive moments of violence. It is all a dance, and the viewer is not in the lead. Derrickson is at the helm and he is taking us to every corner of the dance floor.

What instrument is Derrickson playing when composing this thrilling dance? That would be none other than Ethan Hawke. The four-time Oscar nominee had a good 2021 and 2022, starting with the better-than-it-ought-to-be The Guilty (2021), followed by The Black Phone and the The Northman (2022)..

In The Black Phone, Hawkes is returning the world of conventional thriller for the first time since The Purge (2013). This time around he is not the one running from the masked killers, rather he is the terrorizer.

Hawke is very good as The Grabber, but I am man enough to say that I wish we got a little bit more of him. His screen time is like that of Hannibal Lector; a high impact, low-minute MVP. Anthony Hopkins is the Michael Jordan of this debate, but Ethan Hawke credits himself nicely as an honorary disciple.

Ethan Hawke As The Grabber

The costume of The Grabber deserves a shout out. Amy Andrews took whatever is written in Joe Hill’s short story and made it a visual stamp for the audiences. You need a good bad guy with a good look to leave as much of an impression as Hawke and The Black Phone does. The mask, the addition, the white face paint, the black balloons. They all combine for a scary form of art. If The Grabber did not have as distinguished a look as he does, then The Black Phone would not be as strong or as memorable.

The Black Phone is a very well made movie. It is not the ultra-scary vibe that I personally expected, but it is still worth watching. It is fun in a twist way to watch Hawke morph into this deranged killer. It is fun to have Derrickson throwing the audience off-speed pitches and then chewing off our handles with fastballs. The 1970s vibe, neutered colors, clever filmmaking and amicable acting make The Black Phone a top of the list priority on Peacock.

STANKO RATING: B+ (3.5/5 Stars)

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