Give this horror flick a call.
Just be glad “The Black Phone” takes place in 1978, instead of 2022, because of how it cuts back on the social media and iPhones, and actually gives the kids some fearless dialogue and challenges inside a horror movie. Besides, the 1978 setting serves as a throwback to those original slasher movies. Writer/director Scott Derickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill (both behind “Doctor Strange,” “Sinister”) pushes the genre to the very limit, and provide the story with more common sense and more common ground than most commercial horror films these days. When you find them, you have to seize the moment before jump-scares threaten to deteriorate it, which I doubt it will.
As you begin to watch it, you get angry when the alcoholic father beats up his daughter for having psychic thoughts, as she can see victims of a monster. I, myself, was angry, and felt that should have been cut out of the film. I’m sorry. I know this is supposed to be part of reality, but I hate when kids get beaten by their parents, especially if they’re girls. You’re welcome, ladies for sticking up for you.
But as you keep watching it, you see something original and nostalgic as the main kid Finney Shaw (Mason Thames), the brother of that girl named Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) and son of that drunk (Jeremy Davies), gets abducted by a masked psycho, known as the Grabber (Ethan Hawke). His mask, designed by Tom Savini, is modeled after Lon Chaney’s grin in “London After Might,” and can be detachable in both the mouth and eyes. He can wear the top part and let us see his mouth, and then the other way around. Another movie Halloween costume it will be.
The story is inspired by a short tale from the book “20th Century Ghosts,” as Finney is told by his captor that the phone in the basement is broken and the room is soundproof. So, screaming is would get him nowhere. But that phone gets connected by the young murdered victims, who give Finney instructions on how to survive the nightmare.
When you’re watching “The Black Phone,” you want to be scared, but you also want it to have common sense, and that’s what this horror movie has. The spirits of the murdered victims know how help the boy survive, instead of being silent apparitions, who just stand there to look scary. No matter what good idea looks like it will fail, they’re actually more beneficial, but I want you to be surprised at how.
Derrickson directs the film with attitude and charisma, and choosing the right actors to play their characters with various colors. Hawke has the age and dialogue to make him as scary of a villain as Joaquin Phoenix or Heath Ledger as the two Oscar-winning Jokers. Thames has the kind of intelligence possessed by Danny Lloyd in “The Shining” and Evan Alex in “Us,” because of how he adapts to his surroundings without any stupid choices. And McGraw also delivers as the sister, who knows when to be scared and when to be a smart ass, especially when she’s given special powers.
Speaking of which………
It’s a miracle that the local police (E. Roger Mitchell and Troy Rudeseal play the main detectives) believe that Gwen has the psychic thoughts, regarding the Grabber’s victims. And instead of thinking she’s imagining things or crank calling them, they’re willing to interrogate her. And while she has to take a beating from her father, she still uses her words like an independent woman with a colorful vocabulary, instead of being just the movie little sister.
“The Black Phone” is one of the most unexpected horror films in recent memory, because of how it tests our thoughts and challenges our anticipation of how the story will unfold. It’s ingenuous, fearless, sometimes very funny when it wants to have potty-mouthed kids, and just damn scary.
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