The Black Phone Review: Derrickson's Latest Horror Flick is a Chilling Experience

In the realm of horror, no studio has housed more recent headliners than that of Blumhouse Production. The production company has developed new classics like Paranormal Activity, Get Out and Insidious; and has even brought new light to classics like Halloween. It goes without saying that if a new Blumhouse horror film hits theaters then there is a good chance it is going to get some attention. A case in point is a new horror film hitting the scene which deals with abduction, survival and hauntings. Based on the short story by Joe Hill the horror films known as The Black Phone.

Directed by Scott Derrickson, the film tells the story of a young boy named Finney (Mason Thames) who is abducted by a man called the Grabber (Ethan Hawkes), and his means of survival is a mysterious phone that communicates with the ghosts of the Grabber’s victims. The Black Phone is the latest collaboration from the team Scott Derrickson and screenwriter C. Robert Cargill. It was uncertain when Derrickson could work on the project as he was busy with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but after leaving the Marvel Film Derrickson quickly jumped onto the project and by October 2020 the film was officially announced. The movie had some delays and as it meant to be released earlier this year, but it was pushed back to the summer. Since hitting theaters, The Black Phone has found an array of praise from both critics and moviegoers alike; and that was more than enough to get my attention. It took some time but I finally got a chance to see this horror film and while I was not blown away by it, I found myself impressed with The Black Phone.

The Black Phone was as much a surreal horror film as it was a keen thriller, and this blend made for a captivating narrative. With a wonderful setup the film’s story grabbed my attention and never strayed. Helping to keep that attention was the story’s themes with aspects like isolation giving this tale the right tension; while the plot’s sense of mystery was compelling to say the least. If there was one detraction I had with this spooky tale it was the imbalance between some aspects like the supernatural elements with the overall story. While the use of ghosts was an interesting element, it did clash with the movie’s realistic approach and some details needed more clarification with the overall story. Despite these issues in its direction, it was not enough to derail this story as it remained a chilling experience worthy of any horror film.

Putting together a good cast can be tricky for a horror film, but The Black Phone was for the challenge. As protagonists go, Finney was a solid lead. While Finney’s direction could be too straightforward, he was still an effective character to follow and the performance from Mason Thames was impressive to say the least. Equally as impressive was Madeleine McGraw as Finney’s sister Gwen. Gwen’s development only went so far as aspects like her prophetic dreams needed some clarification, but her role in the movie was still intriguing and her chemistry with Finney felt appropriate for siblings. Along with these young heroes, the movie featured decent supporting characters like Finney and Gwen's father Terrance (Jeremy Davis) or the detectives Wright and Miller (E.Roger Mitchell and Troy Rudeseal) though their roles in the film were limited. However the supporting characters that truly shine were the Grabber’s victims. Each character, from Vance (Brady Hepner) and Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora), had their moment to shine and gave the movie a dynamic set of characters. Speaking of the Grabber, the performance from Ethan Hawke looked promising going into the movie and he did not disappoint. While I felt the character needed more development, Hawke’s performance made up for any shortcomings as Grabber's presence commanded attention every time he was on screen.

When it came to its horror, The Black Phone relied on its eerie atmosphere. While the film does have its share of jump scares, the atmosphere surrounding this horror was gripping, making it difficult to turn away from the screen. Speaking of the jump scares, while this scare tactic can be tedious, that was not the case for The Black Phone as the jump scares were well timed and worked well with the movie’s dark tone. Also aiding in the movie’s tone was the cinematography by Brett Jutkiewicz. The cinematography created a gritty look for the film and this was effective in creating the right vibe for both the movie’s setting and the overall horror. Another element that helped shape the tone was none other than music by Mark Korven. The music may not have left the biggest of impression, but it had eeriness around it which made it a fitting companion for this horror film.

The Black Phone is a horror film that makes a statement. With its gripping storytelling and tense atmosphere, the Blumhouse film crafts a chilling experience that is hard to forget. Though the movie is not without its flaws as details in its plot and characters required more tuning in their delivery; though areas like the characters were able to make up for this shortcoming thanks to the cast and their strong performances. Regardless, The Black Phone is a stellar return for Scott Derrickson to the world of horror by giving the summer a thrilling blockbuster worthy of its genre.


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