Dir. Scott Derrickson
Reviewer. Martyn Wakefield
THE BLACK PHONE, based on Joe Hill's short story from the brilliant anthology series, 21ST CENTURY GHOSTS, is a blast of terrifying fresh air spun through a dirty, fan in a room full of mould an stale air. Something welcome, but downright filthy. The dynamic film making duo of Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill have done it again as they prove that SINISTER and DOCTOR STANGE are not the only successes of their career.
Along for the ride are SINISTER alumni Ethan Hawke and James Rathbone and a menacing theme of haunted children. Here we see Hawke playing The Grabber, a menacing child snatcher who harbours his victims in a soundproof basement but soon his latest victim starts recieving calls from previous victims. Only the phone is disconnected.
Mason Thames brings it all as the victim and survivor fighting for his life and giving The Grabber more than he bargained for with a clever cat and mouse fight for his life. Compared with Hawkes terrifying yet skittish and traumatic villain who James plays his weaknesses well but Hawke manages to give us a new icon for Halloween while also giving his character a pittance of remote empathy like no other. Unlike Myers, Kruegar, Ghostface, The Grabber is human to his own urges - a villain nonetheless - but one who is as ignorant to the world as he is to the supernatural which plays well to Thames' chess play.
Yet beyond the central two characters, the rest of the ensemble do a fantastic build of both desperation and sincere comradeship not seen since the likes of IT and the bond between Thames and his sister played by Madeleine McGraw is so connecting with so little of the screentime dedicated to their pre-horror story. There really cannot be enough praise for such a young cast, and much like the boys (and girl) of Derry, there's a great future ahead for this troupe.
The films 70's setting is perfect for the mood, dull tones and low saturation bring a dark palette that is only matched by the films tone. No humour and genuine terror are here for the long haul but THE BLACK PHONE never outstays its welcome. With a great cast, impressive visuals and an instant Halloween classic villain, whose mask is courtesy of none other than horror royalty, Tom Savini alongside Callosum Studios, there's little to dislike about Derrickson's adaptation with the exception of wanting more.
THE BLACK PHONE can be considered as the antithesis of SINISTER in as much as it flips the world of Derrickson's previous film and characters sand turns them upside down, kids are heroes and the grown-ups are villainess, and yet it tonally captures the same terrifying heart-pounding horror that made that film scientifically the scariest horror film of all time.
From the mind of the brilliant Joe Hill, the son of Stephen King, with the film making credentials of SINISTER give us the horror film of the year and one that truly brings terror back to the cinema, a much welcome need for horror fans post the pandemic era. Some of Hill's work is hard to mirror on screen, the likes of HORNS and IN THE TALL GRASS didn't quite grasp the mind bending physics of their written counterpart but there is huge justice achieved here.