The Black Phone (2021) – Scott Derrickson

Director Scott Derrickson reteams with his Sinister star Ethan Hawke in Derrickson’s adaptation of the Joe Hill story, The Black Phone and Hawke is nothing short of terrifying as a child killer known, in the late 70s era Colorado the story is set in, as The Grabber.

The Grabber is stalking a town that lives in terror of him. He has grabbed and killed a number of children and everyone is cautious, but life still goes on. It’s the late 70s, the world is changing, evolving, and not all of it is good. I remember the time, and hearing more and more about child abductions, but you always felt safe, it could never happen in your town, but that’s what makes a story like this scary because it could happen in your town.

Finney (Mason Thames) is an unsure thirteen-year-old, a little shy, a little scared, and occasionally bullied by other kids in the school. His father (Jeremy Davies) is an abusive drunk, and his little sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) may have a touch of the gift that her mother had, sometimes her dreams come true.

When Finney is abducted, Gwen is shattered and tries to find a way to help while Finney is stuck in a soundproof room, dealing with the fact that he knows he isn’t going to survive. That is until the disconnected black phone on the wall starts ringing.

It’s the Grabber’s previous victims calling Finney.

Dancing between highwire tension and supernatural explorations, I found the film incredibly engaging, Thames turns in an earnest and believable performance, and even hidden behind the frightening demonic masks (designed by Tom Savini!) Hawke turns in a truly terrifying performance.

That being said, I found Davies’ turn equally horrifying. Terrence, Finney’s father, is an abuser, an alcoholic and in mourning for his wife and his children live in fear of him, a very recognizable tale for a number of children.

Terrors are everywhere, and I think I can relate to Finney in this tale, because at about the same time I was beginning to understand that the world can be a scary place. Around that time, our family began locking our doors regularly and being aware of the neighbourhood in which we lived.

I enjoyed the original Joe Hill story, and very much enjoyed Derrickson’s adaptation of it. Everything works, the supernatural stuff has levels weaving through it tying it directly to Finney, Gwen and The Grabber, the mask, the moments, and the way it all pays off.

I’ve enjoyed most of Derrickson’s work, and I think I may have to explore some more of them for the blog. That being said, something about this one really resonated with me, maybe the era, maybe the wonderful balance between physical and supernatural terrors, maybe Hawke, or maybe Hill’s story.

Quite enjoyed this one.

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