I had been waiting for horror-thriller movie ‘The Black Phone’ to come on some OTT platform, because its limited show timings in India just didn’t suit me. It’s now available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, (yes, you have to pay for it even if you have a membership) so I finally managed to watch it legally after hearing a lot of good things about. Unlike most flicks where high expectations leave you underwhelmed, Director Scott Derrickson does not disappoint. Although, the child actors deserve more credit than Ethan Hawke, who plays the primary antagonist in the film.
Plot overview: Kids keep disappearing in a small U.S town leading to an urban legend of a child-killer nicknamed ‘The Grabber’ (Ethan Hawke). So when 13-year-old Finney (Mason Thames) is kidnapped by a sinister man in a van, he finds himself trapped in a sound-proofed basement, with no hope of survival… until a disconnected black phone in the floor rings. Finney begins to receive calls and help from the killer’s previous victims, who seek vengeance for their gruesome deaths. Can little Finney fight back, or will he meet the same fate as the other children?
The film is based on a short story by famous author Joe Hill and if readers are to be believed, the movie is quite loyal to the original source material. The plot completely justifies the title, the black phone becomes a symbol of both hope and despair for Finney. Each time the phone rings, a tense anticipation builds up, keeping viewers anxious over what’s going to come next. While Mason Thames delivers a measured performance as Finney, actor Madeleine McGraw who plays his sister Gwen does a fantastic job of playing his younger protective sibling with ‘special’ powers. Their relationship is quite precious and makes viewers feel empathy for their situation.
The only thing lacking in the story is the motivations of the killer, who seems to live a pretty normal life on the surface and even supports a younger unemployed brother. Although, the counter-argument could be – why give the villain a back story to understand his behavior? In fact, Ethan Hawke’s character doesn’t have a lot of screen space, but perhaps it’s the limited appearances that make him seem more deviant and terrifying. Interestingly, Derrickson and team do not rely on the usual jump scares of the genre, even though one scene managed to startle me completely, giving me what felt like a mild stroke!
‘The Black Phone’ is dark, derivative and manages to ring in ample dread in the viewer’s mind. It could’ve even done pretty well without the supernatural elements and instead been a psychological thriller, but the horror fan in me was quite satisfied with the subtle ghostly elements. The movie is also filled with a lot of small pop culture allusions to different films, the strongest one being a direct nod to Stephen King’s ‘IT’ (Author Joe Hill is his son, so it probably a deliberate nod to King’s work).
More often than not, horror-thriller’s that start off strong tend to get chaotic or plain ridiculous as the climax approaches. However, depending on how you look at it, ‘The Black Phone’ finishes off quite strong, with a conclusive end which makes you feel like streaming the film was completely worth your time.
It’s a 8/10 from me.