The Black Phone – Film Review – Guest Post

One of our contacts, Sherridan, shares his thoughts on The Black Phone below in a first time guest post:

For quite a few years one of the genres where films have been lacking is the thriller genre, although admittedly, until the release of The Black Phone, it was not noticeable how little the genre has been represented. If The Black Phone is a reintroduction to the missing genre, then it’s a strong showcase of the potential that can be provided from these types of films.

Based on a novel by Joe Hill, the son of legendary horror writer Stephen King, and set in a Denver suburb in 1978, the film introduces us to Finney (Mason Thames), a shy 13-year-old who lives with his father Terence (Jeremy Davies) and sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw). The children’s relationship with their father is strained as he is consistently inebriated. The siblings’ relationship with each other is very strong and they are support for each other as they deal with their life at home and at school. Their usual routine is disturbed by reports of missing children in their suburb by an unknown assailant nicknamed “The Grabber” (Ethan Hawke).

Finney would be subjected to bullying if not for his close friend Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora), that is until Robin is reported missing. Finney is assaulted by bullies and later is taken by The Grabber. While captured in a room with only a mattress and a black phone, which he is instructed not to touch as the phone has not worked in years, the phone rings and Finney answers. Finney hears the voices of previous victims determined to provide Finney with information and Finney finds that he must use his ingenuity to ensure his survival.

Mason Thames as Finney in The Black Phone
Mason Thames as Finney in The Black Phone

The film is well paced, allowing for the audience to get familiar with its primary characters and emphasise with them throughout the film. The performances are superb throughout, especially Madeleine McGraw who steals every scene she is in. You are drawn to her portrayal of Gwen, sympathising with her when she suffers and laughing with her at lighter moments. Mason Thames is fantastic as the lead and all the younger actors give good performances and are not overshadowed by the elder performers.

Ethan Hawke is sinister and understated as the villain. He provides a creepy, physical and chilling performance as his character has little dialogue. His emotions are displayed by the variations of the mask he wears, which is designed by Tom Savini, a prosthetic make up legend. The Black Phone takes advantage of its setting, showcasing the suburb as an idyllic image of Americana with the subtle, sinister undertones behind closed doors. It feels authentic and reminiscent of films made during the 1970s with its pacing and style. Scott Derrickson, the director, has stated that he was influenced by The Devil’s Backbone and The 400 Blows while making the film and their influences are prominent throughout The Black Phone.

The Black Phone is an enjoyable film, best described as a coming-of-age drama/thriller with supernatural and horror elements. It is led by great performances and tension which builds to a satisfying conclusion. It uses its setting perfectly to showcase its message of prevalence and thriving through adversity and struggle. It intrigues you and keeps your attention throughout its runtime. It’s a strong and memorable addition to the horror/thriller genre, one that is easily accessible and re-watchable. Hopefully this will provide a renaissance of the thriller genre and more films will emerge from this. If there is any criticism, it is perhaps that there is little screen time for The Grabber, although Ethan Hawke is exceptional with the time that he has. This does not detract from a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable film.

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