Review: The Black Phone is a truly gripping film

Mark Kennedy | Olx Praca

Phones in serial killer films are commonly used by crazed hunters to taunt the police or carefully tell victims how they will die. But in The Black Phone, the opposite is true, which is quite suitable for a horror thriller that reverses many formulas of the genre.

The serial killer from Scott Derrickson’s latest film knows nothing about the massive wall-mounted rotary telephone in his soundproof dungeon. He tells his victims that it hasn’t worked in years. They think differently: they use it to communicate with each other.

The kid-friendly thriller Black Phone is a very nice balance between a film that has elements of supernatural, psychological tension and horror, but never falls into one camp. It also has one of the most satisfying horror thriller endings in years.

Set in north Denver in 1978, the film follows 13-year-old Finney, played with real verve by newcomer Mason Thames. The filmmakers create a dark mood from the start, with massive bullying, schoolyard fights, bloody bruises and alcoholics and abusive parents. Add to that the low hum of homemade missing posters on the walls.

There’s a serial killer roaming there called the Grabber (as a nod to John Wayne Gacy, he’s a professional magician. And perhaps as another nod to the Steve Miller band, he drives a black truck emblazoned with the word “Abracadabra” to match the lyric “I I want to reach out and grab you.” Five teenage boys have disappeared. Finny and his virile little sister, the fabulous Madeleine McGraw, are old enough to understand being kidnapped by strangers, but still young enough to think it’s bad luck to say his name out loud.

Finny knows several of the victims, but gets first-hand information when Grabber – the confusing Ethan Hawke – captures him and locks him in his basement, a place designed to hold people. It is carefully selected, except for that black phone, which, according to the killer, is turned off and its wires are cut. So why does he keep calling Finny?

Poor Hawk is presented as another one of those pure psychopaths from the movie, now gentlemanly, now menacing. We’ve seen it like this before, the chilling accuracy of pronunciation and that ruthless, bloodless play with its prey. Its only outstanding quality is a very good collection of spooky masks. (Halloween is going to be super crazy this year if this movie takes off.)

Black Phone is sort of a re-team of the guys who made Sinister in 2012 – Derrickson and co-writer S. Robert Cargill also collaborated with producer Jason Blum and Hawke. This time around, they’re drawing on horror royalty – the source material is a story by Joe Hill, alias of Joe King, son of Stephen King.

The filmmakers, in my opinion, rely too heavily on the supernatural to free Finney – does the phone have to periodically beat like a heart? — but it’s me. The film combines the vibes of Stranger Things and The Room, and even mentions a movie that is deeply indebted: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The movie’s slogan is “Don’t talk to strangers” and it’s painfully wrong. In relation to the Grabber, Finn learns that the voices on the other end of the black phone are his previous victims. They help him, each naming a way to outsmart Grabber and, combined, a safe way home. “Use what we have given you,” advises one disembodied voice.

What makes The Black Phone stand out is how beautifully it captures what it was like to grow up in the often damp 70s, and the total respect for the world of children. Every adult is either dismissive and aloof or downright bloodthirsty. At its center is the fraternity of teenage victims and the bond between sister and brother working against the twisted adult world. It will grab you.


“Black phone”

3 stars out of 4

Rating: R (for violence, bloody imagery, profanity and drug use)

Duration: 103 minutes

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