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Fantastic Fest Exclusive Review: ‘The Black Phone’ is a Disturbing and Chilling Childhood Horror



Fantastic Fest Exclusive Review: 'The Black Phone' is a Disturbing and Chilling Childhood Horror

On September 25th, 2021 I was given the exciting opportunity to have a seat at the world premiere of Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone. Based on Joe Hill’s short story and helmed by the amazing duo of Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill (Sinister, Doctor Strange), it’s no shocker that this film is a tense, mean, and emotional outing from Blumhouse.

The film, set in the 1970s, follows a young boy, Finn, held in the basement of the town’s wanted kid killer. The boy (Mason Thames) must escape the basement with help from unusual sources and his special younger sister (Madeline McGraw), all while at the mercy of the disturbing yet captivating man known only as “The Grabber” (Ethan Hawke). The film also stars Jeremy Davies and James Ransone as a distraught father and a coked out conspiracy theorist.

The film, while pertaining to more supernatural aspects and themes, has a very grounded feel. As an audience member I felt the film’s mean spirited, 1970s, “suburbia under attack” angst…and I loved it. It kept itself out of the noticeable cliché of being a throwback to the 70s and 80s and doesn’t rely on nostalgia to garner attention towards the screen. Rather, it feels like an intimate period piece intent on taking people back to a time where the old parental term “don’t talk to strangers” rang true. This, of course, allows the film to hit all the beats we’ve heard or thought of when we were lectured about being kidnapped as a kid. Enticing but unnerving man, black van, basement, it’s all such a horrific nightmare for both children and parents. The film really immerses the viewer into the perspective of Finn, keeping things ambiguous towards The Grabber while still showing enough to keep him memorable as a disturbing character.

The Black Phone 2021 Image

The way this film is written and presented is fantastic, with the authentic aura of an old police report for a serial killer. This is no surprise, considering the original short story is based off of the murders of John Wayne Gacy. Scott and Robert take a step back to their film Sinister and once again put audiences in a front row seat to some dastardly child murder with Ethan Hawke paired with Scotts now iconic analog horror aesthetic. Only this time it feels much more intimate and grounded. Fun fact: At the premiere Robert said Sinister and The Black Phone take place in the same universe.

The film’s pacing was done quite well. It starts off slow but once it gets going, it never lets up. Plus that slow beginning really made me care for the young leads. The tension is built up well, and there are quite a few scenes where I was put on the edge of my seat rooting for Finn, all while Ethan Hawke keeps up a menacing and disturbing act. There are also a lot of horrifying scares that had the theater erupting in screams. The films climax was exhilarating and well earned, satisfying, and warranting of applause.

Overall, The Black Phone is a gritty and creepy piece of horror that could be described as a meeting of Creep and Sinister, and is sure to give audience a shiver down their shoulder this winter. I can say for certain I’ll be back for more at the wide release.

The Black Phone is releasing to theaters January 28th, 2022. Be sure to follow me on twitter (@JacobAtTheMovie) for more horror film reviews and discussions.

The Black Phone 2021 Poster