THE BLACK PHONE
Starring: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Davies, E. Roger Mitchell, Troy Rudeseal, and James Ransone
Director: Scott Derrickson
There aren’t many surprises in store for those viewing Scott Derrickson’s first horror film since Deliver Us From Evil, but even so, this pseudo-supernatural drama does make for an entertaining movie experience. Less traditional horror than psychological thriller, the best thing about The Black Phone is how its ambitions don’t outstretch its reach. It’s not shooting for the stars or attempting to make some grand point. It’s simply taut, filled with good performers, and is very well-designed. I do wish we saw a little more of Ethan Hawke without the mask, but what’s given works well enough for me.
Director Scott Derrickson goes back to his horror roots with The Black Phone, a tense thriller set in the 1970s that is only enhanced by a creepy score. The film, which is adapted from a short story by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), packs a punch similar to 2001’s Frailty. It’s a gut wrenching nail-biter of a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and while Ethan Hawke is haunting as The Grabber, I do wish we got more of his character. The real standouts are Madeleine McGraw and Mason Thames though, both of whom give breakthrough performances.
In an effort to correct your expectations, The Black Phone is not a horror movie, and despite a few attempts at jump scares, it’s not really all that scary. It’s more of a suspense thriller, a sort of creepy Frequency meets Frailty. That said, it’s still pretty good, and Ethan Hawke plays an effectively unnerving villain (though his mask does a lot of the heavy lifting). Some genuine laugh out loud moments (both intentional and not) undercut the tension a little too much, and several of the child actors are downright dreadful, but you’ll never lose interest in what’s happening on screen.