The Black Phone (Scott Derrickson, 2021, USA)

Based on a short story by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), The Black Phone is the latest directorial effort from Scott Derrickson. While we have not seen Derrickson's 2012 film Sinister, that film has become a modern horror classic. While the marketing materials present The Black Phone as something in the vein of Se7en - and there are some definite nods to Fincherism in the film - it owes much more to Stephen King. From its vintage setting to its supernatural elements, to its archetypal "good vs. evil" battle, The Black Phone feels straight out of Stephen King's universe.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Set in Denver in the late 1970s (with great attention to period detail - the set design is one of the best things about The Black Phone), the film centers on a young teenager, Finney, who is captured by the "The Grabber" (Ethan Hawke), a murderous Gacy-like figure who has been abducting young men in the neighborhood. Trapped in the Grabber's basement, Finney has to communicate with the spirits of the Grabber's previous victims to make his way out alive.

The film succeeds mainly on the merit of Hawke's performance, and Mason Thames' performance as Finney - both of which are excellent. Madeleine McGraw also has a great turn as Gwen, Finney's supernatural sister. The film suffers from a bit of Stephen King-style hokiness - if you were expecting strong character development or background, The Black Phone is not the film for you. This is a film that deals in shades of black and white, not greys. That being said, the film culminates in a payoff that is exhilarating and worth the wait. Despite its R-rating, The Black Phone does not contain much gore and is more of a thrill ride. It is surprising it did not get a PG-13 rating.



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