Prior to Scott Derrickson's break into franchise filmmaking with Doctor Strange, Derrickson was well known for his horror roots. Both Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose are critically acclaimed films that also rooted with audiences and now he is back with another horror movie; but, is The Black Phone worth seeing in cinemas?
The Black Phone follows Finney Shaw (Mason Thames), a shy but clever 13-year-old boy, who is abducted by a sadistic killer (Ethan Hawke) and trapped in a soundproof basement where screaming is of little use. When a disconnected phone on the wall begins to ring, Finney discovers that he can hear the voices of the killer's previous victims; and they are dead set on making sure what happened to them doesn't happen to Finney.
The Black Phone is a film that surprised me, for many reasons. Horror films have certainly seemed to be lacking any actual tension in recent years; however, Derrickson has injected new life into the genre with an actually scary horror film! The film very quickly sets up this mysterious kidnapper known as ‘The Grabber' and then the audience are thrown into the situation that Finney is propelled into.
The pacing is brilliant here. The movie very quickly throws Finney into the basement and trying to find a way out. However, the film runs at the pace of a speeding bullet, making each sequence feel like a jolt of adrenaline. Every twist and turn comes with new problems that are even more tense than what came before it. The excellent sound design also contributes to the tension. The one sequence where Finney is slowly trying to break free from The Grabber's home is the most edge-of-your-seat suspense moment in a film in a long time; it genuinely is heart-pounding stuff. The sound of stairs creaking to the noise of a phone ringing all act as a nerve-racking sounds and Derrickson has done an excellent job at making everything seem terrifying.
The cast are all brilliant here. We all know Ethan Hawke is a fantastic actor, he has recently shown that he was great in Moon Knight, but he takes a very different approach than he did to the villain he played in the Marvel series by taking a much more psychotic route. The Grabber is terrifying and makes your skin crawl with how creepy and disgusting his character is. There is nothing redeeming about him and the way he interacts with Finney makes you cringe with his unsettling nature.
However, the kids in this film steal the show. Mason Thames' Finney has such a good screen presence. The way his character comes full circle throughout the film is very interesting and the young actor truly sells you on the situation he is trapped in. Madeleine McGraw is excellent too. By playing Finney's sister, you can feel the urgency from her character and the need to find her brother. While having to deal with a lot of the more emotional moments in the film, McGraw deals with them with ease, allowing her to make everything seem natural.
My only criticism regarding The Black Phone isn't to do with the film itself but its marketing. This is a prime example of the trailers showing far too much of the plot. I know a film about a child being kidnapped and fighting to escape isn't the easiest film to market but nearly all the big twists and turns are hinted at or outright shown in the trailers.
Overall, The Black Phone is the definitive horror film of 2022. Scott Derrickson has made a nail-biting thriller that is anchored by an unhinged Ethan Hawke and fantastic child performances from Madeleine McGraw and Mason Thames. The tension is constantly kept sky-high and the biggest rush of adrenaline you will have all year.
The Black Phone is out now.
The Black Phone is in cinemas now.