REVIEW: The Black Phone – Poor Reception
Sinister is one of my favorite horror movies. It combines true crime and supernatural genres, uses home videos well, and builds up to a shocking ending. I was thrilled to see The Black Phone, Derrickson’s first directorial return since Doctor Strange (2016). The Black Phone fails to exploit the potential of this film fully and fails to make a film that gets under the skin.
It’s 1978. Denver is plagued with a series of child kidnappings by a man they call The Grabber (Ethan Hawke). Yet, it’s business-as-usual. It could be the 1970s. There is a lot of violence and brutality in schools, so it shouldn’t be surprising that there is no parental concern. Terrence (Jeremy Davies) is a non-contender to father of the Year. He’s allowed his drinking to overwhelm him so much that his children Finney and Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) have had to walk around him in fear of triggering his rage.
Finney spends a lot of time in the film setting up his home and school and showing some of his relationships. The film shows the bond between Finney (Gwen) and Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora), and there is enough camaraderie to help ground some events later.
Finney is grabbed midway through the movie and wakes up in the basement where The Grabber stored all his victims. Hawke’s role as a kidnapper/killer is not a common one. Hawke has played villainous characters in the past, but that’s not to say he isn’t capable of doing so again. This Year alone, he gave a terrifying performance as Harrow. Harrow isn’t as evil as The Grabber, despite his misguided actions.
This man kidnaps, tortures, and kills young boys. Hawke wears the devilish mask of Finney to project his message, but he doesn’t rise to the level of evil necessary to make us fear Finney. Hawke doesn’t have much screen time in the movie, so it isn’t easy to really make an impact. Hawke’s character occasionally appears to make snarling, gleeful threats and then disappears up the stairs.