I’m old enough to remember when big screen horror was on its last legs, before first Lionsgate and then Blumhouse gave it a shot in the arm. Actually Lionsgate were more likely to cut the arm off and then feed you with it. That’s a compliment, by the way.
Blumhouse do not go down the ‘gorno’ path that Lionsgate pursued, much of their catalogue has been more psychological. This tradition continues with the excellent The Black Phone, which plays like one of the classic late 80’s Stephen King flicks, where what you didn’t see was as scary as what you did see. There are definite nods to Firestarter, The Dead Zone, Cat’s Eye and Stand By Me here, so much so that I had to check that there was no King original hiding behind the tale, nope. But…it is based upon a short story by Joe Hill, who is the son of Stephen King, so I was kinda right and the fruit did not fall far from the tree, this is a great original tale, electrifyingly told by Scott Derrickson and former AICN alumni C. Robert Cargill. I’ve been fans of this pair for a while, Dr Strange was a Marvel great and Cargill was one of my fave writers back in the early days of the internet.
The best stories have the simplest premises, so here is another one – a serial killer known as The Grabber has become whisper-thrill law amongst the kids, as he terrorises the neighbourhood, kidnapping and eventually killing innocents, taking them away in his black van, to a soundproof room with a cordless black phone, that rings…If you loved Ethan Hawke’s villain performance in Moon Knight then wait until you see him burn up the screen here. A quiet fury pervades everything The Grabber does and the use of masks is brilliant, especially for an audience now used to the face covering, but perhaps not in this perverse way, one minute he is laughing, the next sad, half a mask, full face, this is a brilliant brilliant performance by Hawke, quietly terrifying.
Of course, if you did not care for the kids being abducted, this would count for nothing, but the movie is very well paced and spends enough time with the various kids, that you really care when they start turning up on ‘missing’ posters. Special applause must go to Mason Thames as the main teen character, from his violent home life to his encounters with dead friends, he is great throughout, just jump higher and get out of the window, kid! Even better is Madeleine McGraw as his sister – they only have each other and their relationship is so brilliantly shaded that when he disappears you feel so much for her, especially when she turns to Jesus, eventually getting tired of his silence with the iconic “Jesus? What the fuck?” She’s great.
The script is cut razor sharp, in a world of two and a half hour to three hour films, it is nice to see a (checks runtime) 103 minute movie that uses every second of that time to all the story, make us care and resolve it in a satisfying twisty way.
If you’re moaning about the lack of originality in modern cinema, then give this film your support, it is everything you are asking for. And more. Phone Rings
In cinemas and on streaming via Sky, Amazon, Xbox or wherever you get your premium streams