A boy attempts to escape from a deranged serial killer with the help of ghosts who communicate with him through a disconnected telephone in the absolutely stupid-sounding The Black Phone that is, amazingly, absolutely entertaining.
From the director of Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Doctor Strange, The Black Phone is an unconventional yet accessible horror film that defies its weird, silly concept in every way and form. Featuring Ethan Hawke as the psychopath known as The Grabber and starring Mason Thames as 13-year-old Finney, The Black Phone is efficient, suspenseful and semi-unpredictable. It also benefits from a wiley performance by young Madeleine McGraw.
The Black Phone works for many reasons.
First, director Scott Derrickson and co-writer Robert Cargill give us a terrifying villain who is a source of pure evil; he clearly is deranged, but Derrickson and Cargill have little interest in explaining who he is or why he does what he does. He just does.
The filmmakers also put considerable weight on the shoulders of Thames, who spends a fair amount of time in a room all by himself. Thames is terrific and serves as the perfect sparring partner to Hawke, who is clearly having fun behind a series of frightening masks that should become popular come Halloween.
More than anything, The Black Phone has a fluid dynamic where the rules are always changing and the end game constantly shifting. Fast-paced, entertaining, and not without its small doses of biting humor, the movie is a refreshing spin on a story we have, in some form or another, seen before. There are so many bland, run-of-the-mill horror movies out there; this is not one of them.
Even better, the movie boasts a killer ending.
Where The Black Phone falls short is in the scares department; as suspenseful as it is, Derrickson misses an opportunity to take his movie to the next level. There is something that keeps it short of riveting, and short of becoming an instant classic.
That shouldn’t take away from the end result, however, a horror movie that works in spite of the fact that it’s about a kid who has chats with ghosts over a phone. It may sound stupid, but The Black Phone is a legitimate thriller worth watching.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.