I Wrote my First Movie Review While Giving Birth to a Camera. It has followed me ever since. Please don't mind the Mess.
Scott Derrickson and C Robert. Cargill from the Story By Joe Hill
In writer/director/bris master Scott Derrickson’s first movie since 2016’s Doctor Strange (he exited Doctor Strange and the Long F*cking Title over “creative differences”- which really meant the studio wouldn’t ensure his demand to have a live chupacabra in his trailer to greet him after shooting wrapped), Derrickson goes back to the horror well, the same genre in which he made his feature debut The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a movie in which priest is accused of killing a young child. Fun.
This time, instead of the devil and demons and lawnmowers (Sinister), Derrickson (and cowriter C. Robert Cargill- the C stands for Handmaiden) take on an ancient artifact unburied after generations of disuse: the rotary telephone. With something called a “cord”.
Instead of pressing a button from your contacts, with these old fangled phones you had to dial 7(!) numbers in order to reach the person you wanted to talk to. If you included the area code, sometimes you had to dial 10(!!) numbers…in a row.
With these rotary phones you could not text.
With these rotary phones, you. Could. Not. Text.
But should you answer this call from said phone that is black? Let’s find out after I call to have food delivered on my iPhone 500 (made from the tiny hands of underage Costa Rican urchins) and it will be at my door by the time you finish “dialing” on your ancient Mesopotamian rotary phone.
PHONED IN SYNOPIS.
The Black Phone opens in Denver Colorado in the late 70s. If this took place in the present day the movie would be over in 20 minutes because, technology.
We’re at a little league baseball game and our hero Finney (Mason Thames) is a pitcher. Finney seems good at pitching until he gives up a home run to a guy named Bruce (Tristan Pravong). Finney loses the game for his team but there’s no hard feelings. Bruce even compliments Finney on his pitching.
A friendship is forged.
Maybe not, because soon after the game Bruce goes missing. He’s not the first kid to disappear in the past couple of months. Opening credits doubling as visual exposition show that numerous children have been grabbed by someone dubbed…The Grabber.
Other possible handles that were nixed by the Denver press include: The Snatcher (voted down because the Snatcher was used two cities over), Casey Anthony, The Kiddie Creeper (voted down because it sounded too “fun” and test kids reported they would want to be abducted by someone called the Kiddie Creeper), and Father O’ Flanagan.
Finney is sad because Bruce is probably dead. That’s okay because Finney has a lot of friends that aren’t missing and presumed buried somewhere underneath a tilt-a-whirl.
Maybe not. Finney and his younger sister Gwen (Madeleine “Tim” McGraw) keep pretty much to themselves because they’re picked on by other kids. Why? Because they’re weird.
Madeleine has dreams. Sometimes they come true. It’s gotten her in trouble with their alcoholic father Terrence (Jeremy Davies) because their mother had similar dreams before she killed herself. This will probably not come into play later.
At least Finney has found a friend. His name is Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora) and he’s tough enough to take on bullies.
A new friendship is forged and this one will last---
Then Robin is taken by The Grabber.
Maybe Finney shouldn’t be around people because everyone around him gets kidnapped and probably killed.
Finney’s off to find a new friend to be abducted when a black van rolls up on him and a guy with a mask jumps out. Remember we’re in the 70s where it’s totally okay to be driving around in a van and not have people think you have a kid tied up your vehicle even though you probably have a kid tied up in your vehicle.
Finney notices something in the van that Gwen saw in her dream. Before the gets a chance to process what’s happening the totally inconspicuous man in the black van wearing a mask chokes him out and throws him into the van.
The neighborhood watch is not in effect because Finney wakes up in a basement. There’s a mattress and a disconnected black rotary phone and a disco ball and a swinger’s lounge and an 8-track and polyester. He’s seen the “newspapers” (that’s how people got information back then- they “read” it on printed paper or something like that, look it up). Finney knows the Grabber has him. He’s f*cked unless…
The black phone rings. Finney answers it. If you’ve seen the trailer you know it’s the voices of The Grabber’s previous victims. The voices want to help Finney escape so he doesn’t end up like them.
But it may be too late, because they don’t call him The Grabber because he’s not good at kidnapping and murdering children.
What Works with The Black Phone.
- Ethan Hawke has been busy this year. He played a Marvel villain in that Oscar Isaac Disney show. He played Alexander Skarsgard’s dead dad in The Northman. Now he terrifies the dead preteen society out of you as The Grabber. Wisely, not much is known about him and Hawke scares without overplaying his hand. He’s not onscreen as much as you might think but he dominates scenes he’s not even in. One of Hawke’s best late career performances.
- The Naughty Game- It’s worse than you think.
- Because horror movies need to be offset with humor at times, Madeleine McGraw steals scenes as the wonderfully profane and clairvoyant Gwen (“Jesus…”). McGraw gets the best individual lines in the film and when she’s onscreen she makes more of an impression than Finney.
What Doesn’t Work With The Black Phone.
- The Black Phone is a very good horror movie. What keeps it from being great is a middling second act that feels repetitive at times. It’s never boring, but you find the movie spinning its wheels and your attention drifting while you wait for the inevitable climax.
While not on par with Derrickson’s excellent Sinister, The Black Phone calls in enough scares to keep you grabbing(!) whoever you sit next to in the theater. We’re willing to bet this is scarier than Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis but we can’t be sure. Answer this Phone if you were disappointed by Jurassic World Dominion a couple of weeks ago.
3 stars (really 3.5)
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Noel Penaflor