There has been a couple of horror films that have been released just in the past few months with the most recent offering being The Black Phone which stars Ethan Hawke as the evil antagonist referred to in the movie as The Grabber. We were honestly interested in The Black Phone due to the success that Hawke has had in the said genre, specifically with his hit film Sinister — enough reason to be honest to watch and review the movie.
The film as mentioned stars Ethan Hawke who joins forces once again with Sinister director Scott Derrickson. Derrickson who also directed the first Doctor Strange film was led to The Black Phone after leaving the director’s chair for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The Black Phone is actually an adaptation of the 2004 short story of the same name by Joe Hill.
The Black Phone is set in 1978 where a serial child abductor nicknamed “The Grabber” terrorizes and roams the streets of a Denver suburb. His M.O. targets young boys as he lures them into his nondescript black van drugs them and traps them in his soundproof basement. His latest victim however proves to be the most challenging yet as a young boy named Finney is able to communicate with The Grabber’s past victims through a supposedly broken down black phone found in the assailant’s basement. Finney is clearly not alone in his fight for survival as his sister, Gwen, on the outside who is also a telepath is able to have dreams and visions regarding the Grab’s murders.
The Black Phone Review: Spoiler Warnings
This review of The Black Phone will be spoiler-free as we will limit our discussion on the overall impact of the story, its visuals, and the scare factor that it exhibits.
Horror With Meaning
One of the often misconceptions and admittedly errors in making horror films is the notion that its only goal should be the horror aspect. A good scare isn’t at all effective if there is no substantial story at play. This is what The Black Phone is able to accomplish. It isn’t a horror movie just for the sake of being scary but within the film is a very great story. The plot is with all honesty very engaging and intriguing through and through. It combines supernatural horror with probably the fear that lies within every child and even parent for that matter. At the core of the film is the ability to create horrifying experiences that are all the more apparent due to the consistent and engaging flow of the plot.
One of the central elements that make this film truly gripping isn’t even the fact that there is a presence of supernatural entities. What makes The Black Phone all the more fear-inducing is The Grabber himself. Ethan Hawke nails the performance here as the villain of the story. There is a whole new level with how the psychotic nature and eerie characteristics of The Grabber are shown and highlighted. The ability even to communicate such emotions while wearing a mask is all the more mind-blowing to witness. Hawke had to rely on acting mostly with his eyes alone to bring about the desired menacing appearances which were all done close to perfect. This was matched by the performances of the young actors and actresses in the film as well as they were able to carry the film from start to finish as well.
The Black Phone’s narrative flow is really spot on. At the onset, it may appear as a slow burn to get to the action and suspense of the actual meat of the story. This exposition however was very much necessary to establish the weight, depth, and impact of the actual horror elements. The build-up was at a very steady pace as it inched closer and closer to the climactic events of the film. The story between Finney and his Gwen brings a very humanizing and relatable aspect to the story that enables viewers the need to root for these specific characters. There is a quality to the writing that allows an overall moving experience on our part as the viewer that we would not be able to resist the need to empathize and cheer on the protagonists of the film.
What The Black Phone is able to achieve further as it injects so much meaningfulness to the story is a movie that you would actually root for. Most horror tropes include ending that are either open-ended therefore calling for a sequel or one that is frustratingly depressing or confusing. The story of The Black Phone although having very dark, deep, and depressing tones to it is by all means encapsulated by a positive message. There are themes of unity and grit that encompass the film as it is able to highlight the coming together of individuals despite their differences.
Not That All Horrifying
To be quite frank the film’s success is heavily rooted in the story itself as the scares are just an add-on for symbolic purposes even. If you are expecting a film that will keep you up at night, The Black Phone doesn’t actually aim at that. Instead with a powerful and deep-rooted story as the focus, Black Phone’s horrifying elements come in as a means to supplement and further highlight the narrative. As mentioned the more horrifying moments come in through the character of the Grabber himself and in turn, the film appears to deliver a different genre altogether.
The Black Phone is more of a suspense-thriller film rather than a solidified supernatural horror offering. The supernatural elements lend themselves as a vehicle for the thrill of the film to take place especially when it comes to Finney’s actions and plans for escape. These are the moments that induce heart-throbbing moments as we find ourselves screaming at the screen for Finney to speed up his movements. There are a few jumps scares from the ghosts that do appear in the film and it’s their limited nature and subtlety that allows the film to become all the more exciting. The use of horror tropes is also done at a bare minimum as there seems to be a lack of the predictable nature in The Black Phone. This is where the film excels as there is as mentioned a point-point element of scares that come in both from the so-called supernatural and the real-life threat that The Grabber brings into the story. My only wish however was for the motives of The Grabber to be thoroughly discussed but that could certainly be overlooked.
The visual impact for the most part also remains consistently brilliant first in encapsulating the setting and color grading of the late 1970s. There is that thematic quality to it that is seen from start to finish and even down to the set designs, hairstylings, and costumes. This is then combined with the darker tones, especially in the basement scenes that allow the horrifying “anything can pop out of nowhere” atmosphere. The makeup for the deceased kids was also spot-on as it was achieved with just the right amount of detail and subtle notes that just made it horrifying and not too over the top.
The Black Phone Review: Final Verdict
As seen in our The Black Phone Review, the film has met and exceeded our expectations. It is a film that showcases what a horror film should be by allowing a very brilliantly made story to take center stage so as to not get lost in just providing horror elements. It does however lack the fear-inducing scenes that die-hard horror aficionados may be looking for but in terms of the story, direction, acting, and even visuals, The Black Phone nailed it in our books. An easy 10 out of 10 on our Hype Meter.
Hype Meter: 10/10
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