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A Hooked On Horror Review: The Black Phone

I’ve been eagerly waiting for this film to come out ever since Blumhouse released the first trailer at CinemaCon back in August 2021. An original idea as opposed to a sequel, and let’s be honest it looked great in the trailers. And that mask….my God that mask caught my attention immediately. I had the pleasure of going to watch it in Odeon, Cardiff tonight, and it did not disappoint.

“Finney Shaw is a shy but clever 13-year-old boy who's being held in a soundproof basement by a sadistic, masked killer. When a disconnected phone on the wall starts to ring, he soon discovers that he can hear the voices of the murderer's previous victims -- and they are dead set on making sure that what happened to them doesn't happen to Finney.”

The film is a new adaptation of a 2004 short film by Scott Hill, also titled The Black Phone. In short, this serial killer dubbed “The Grabber” is wreaking havoc in a small town Colorado town in 1978. He has already abducted and killed five children, with the films main character Finney (Mason Thames) being the sixth. We follow Finney’s journey as The Grabber’s previous victims aid him in trying to escape via a disconnected black telephone. In regards to spoilers the above few lines about the film are all you’ll be having from me; it is a fantastic flick.

It is a bit of a slow starter, but this for me worked incredibly well. Instead of a lot of horror films nowadays our main characters actually get fleshed out. We get to know them and get a much deeper back story which added so much to the film, fantastic character development. The soundtrack was great and was a great match for the film. It’s really well shot, the use of colour throughout the film is something I thought worked very well. The lighting was spot on (no pun intended), especially for The Grabber’s scenes. Whilst we get outlines and glimpses, there’s only a few brief moments throughout the film were Ethan Hawke and that incredible mask are really shown off.

The mask…the mask is just phenomenal, terrifying yet intriguing at the same time. Tom Savini and Jason Baker have done some of the best work I’ve seen in a horror in recent years regarding the mask. The design is very well thought out; whilst the top half remains the same, the bottom half of the mask features three different interchangeable designs that pull influence from those old school Shakespearean comedy, tragedy and death masks. A jaw dropping design, and when paired with the lighting and Hawke’s performance…well it made for some tense, uncomfortable, skin crawling moments throughout the film.

The cast were great with all three of the main cast giving truly wonderful performances. Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw and Ethan Hawke were all great and brought something truly unique and special to their roles. McGraw and Thames, I feel, will go onto to do bigger and better things within this genre, they seem very suited and comfortable in this film. Hawke stole the show for me though. I haven’t had a character make me that uncomfortable since first watching Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. The supporting cast were equally as good.

My only complaint is I would've liked to have seen more of The Grabber in action. Potentially would've affected the pacing and thrown a bit of a spanner into the works but I left the cinema wanting to see more of him. I suppose the same could be said for the likes of Hannibal Lecter or the shark in Jaws- more effective as they have limited screentime. I wouldn't want a sequel to this as it a strong stand alone film, but exploring more of Hawke's character in this film is something I would be very interested in seeing.

Watching it you’ll clearly see influences from Stephen King and his infamous It, as well as its main character Pennywise. Hawke’s character’s original profession in this was in fact a clown as the film makers made use of the shocking John Wayne Gacy case (which still leaves its mark on the film). All in all this is a fantastic film that brings something fresh and exciting to a genre that more recently consists mostly of sequels, prequels and remakes. A unique and interesting story that features one of the best masks I’ve seen in a horror in a long time, a great soundtrack and two top notch performances and possibly the best of Hawke’s career to date (closely followed by Sinister).

The Black Phone is in cinemas now.


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