Justin Hall at the Movies: 'Black Phone' a well-crafted cerebral thriller - Upsmag - Magazine News


Justin Hall at the Movies: ‘Black Phone’ a well-crafted cerebral thriller

“The Black Phone” could’ve easily been a disposable horror thriller, but it’s elevated largely due to a committed cast and a story with credible stakes.

Ethan Hawke stars as a serial killer known as The Grabber in 1978 Denver, who targets high school kids by luring them into a black van with black balloons. Mason Thames costars as a young boy named Finney, and Madeleine McGraw is his younger sister, Gwen.

The two siblings share a home with their abuser, alcoholic, widowed father (Jeremy Davies).

One day, Finney finds himself in the crosshairs as The Grabber’s next victim. He is kidnapped and placed inside a soundproof basement that gives off “Silence of the Lambs” vibes, where he discovers a black phone. Despite the phone being disconnected, it rings — and on the other line are The Grabber’s previous targets, who have no recollection of their former lives. Still, they try to guide Finney on how to break out.

Meanwhile, Gwen begins to have psychic dreams as to how to find Finney and tries to explain them to two detectives (E. Roger Mitchell and Troy Rudeseal), but they dismiss her claims.

Film director/cowriter Scott Derrickson is a master at pacing. He’s much more interested in creating a story that’s driven by atmosphere, suspense, dialogue and motivation. This movie could’ve been a gore-fest from the start but instead takes a much more cerebral approach by building tension slowly and also allowing the actors to do something with their characters. Thames and McGraw do wonderful work as two kids who have a great relationship as each other’s backbones amidst the madness. They rely on intelligence, resourcefulness and occasionally a dark sense of humor. Hawke creates a menacing presence as a killer who is terrifying and even a bit misguided in his methods. One scene illustrates his willingness to let Finney go, but Finney makes a crucial mistake, so The Grabber keeps him locked up. It’s a creepy, tour de force performance.

The movie has moments that don’t make you use your head — except for its conclusion — but it’s still a smart, tense, well-crafted supernatural thriller.

When this phone rings, answer the call.

Grade: A-

(Rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some drug use.)

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