After a stint in the MCU with Doctor Strange, Scott Derrickson returns to the horror genre with The Black Phone. Based on a short story by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, The Black Phone is Derrickson’s return to the genre where he made his name with the likes of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister. Here, he takes us to middle America where a child kidnapper, dubbed “the Grabber” by local news stations, stalks young boys and instills fear into a quiet Colorado community who are ill-equipped to deal with this menace.
The latest victim of Ethan Hawke’s Grabber is Finney (Mason Thames). Finney has grown up in an abused home alongside his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), who has inherited what can only be described as Shining like abilities from her now deceased mother. The two are regularly beaten by their drunk father, Jeremy Davies, and they rely on each other when things get tough. Once Finney is taken, the police are slow to react and Gwen takes the lead on finding him. Finney finds himself trapped in a basement with a bed and an old rotary phone that no longer works. At least, the phone is not meant to work, but Finney soon finds himself conversing with the previous victims of the Grabber, as they plot a way to end his reign of terror.
Strangely for a horror film, The Black Phone is quite pleasant to watch at times. Much like 2017s It, the film succeeds as much in its portrayal of youth and the hardships that brings — as it does in being a frightening story of a child killer roaming an otherwise idyllic American town. The world created here feels real, and the sense of growing up at a time when a nations innocence was beginning to fade is keenly felt in this 70s set horror. There are scares, but perhaps not enough, and the pacing of the film does slow down once Finney is taken and locked up in the Grabber’s basement. Despite this, Derrickson has crafted another horror film that will do enough for both die hard and casual fans alike, with Hawke excelling as the villain and who puts in a memorable performance despite limited screen time. The Black Phone is not perfect, but with tempered expectations it can be viewed as another success for Derrickson and Hawke, and will leave audiences suitably tense after viewing it.
The Black Phone is in UK cinemas from 24 June.