Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Davies, E. Roger Mitchell, Troy Rudeseal, James Ransone, Miguel Cazarez Mora, Rebecca Clarke, J. Gaven Wilde, Spencer Fitzgerald, Jordan Isaiah White, Brady Ryan, Tristan Pravong, Jacob Moran, Brady Hepner, Banks Repeta, Parrish Stikeleather, Kristina Arjona, Sheila M. O'Rear, Rocco Poveromo
Written by: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill, based on a story by Joe Hill
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
MPAA Rating: R for violence, bloody images, language and some drug use
Running Time: 102
Date: 06/24/2022
IMDB

The Black Phone (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Died Receiver

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This tense horror movie seems a little tentative about how far to go with its subject of child kidnapping/murdering, but it still delivers some genuinely brutal tension via its vivid characters.

It's 1978 in Denver. Local boys have been disappearing, never again turning up. Thirteen-year-old Finney (Mason Thames) is a target for bullies at school, even though his firecracker younger sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) sticks up for him. Gwen has clairvoyant powers, and sometimes dreams about "The Grabber" (Ethan Hawke), who kidnaps the boys and leaves behind black balloons.

Meanwhile, Finney befriends the tough, streetwise Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora), and is given a brief reprieve from his bullies. Unfortunately, Robin also disappears, soon followed by Finney himself. Trapped in a concrete room, Finney begins to receive mysterious calls on a broken, black phone. With the help from the voices on the other line, and his sister's dreams, Finney begins to attempt his escape.

Based on a short story by Stephen King's son Joe Hill (Horns, NOS4A2, Locke & Key), The Black Phone takes its time before putting Finney in the concrete room, trying to humanize the victims as much as possible. Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Doctor Strange) seems to want viewers to feel the impact of death, but not too strongly. The movie frequently retreats into humor; a scene with a hyped-up, paranoid James Ransone is a hoot, and Madeleine McGraw — who plays young Gwennie — amuses with her choice, colorful insults.

Another small problem is Finn himself, who is introduced as a brilliant baseball pitcher, staring down batters with a fearsome glare before throwing perfect strikes. After that, it makes little sense for him to be so meek and passive. As a result, The Black Phone can feel somewhat shapeless. Yet once Finn is in the room, his interactions with a scenery-chewing Hawke, as well as the voices on the phone, start to build into something.

Derrickson offers up a couple of spine-tingling moments, as well as suspenseful races-against-time that will make the palms slick with cold sweat. The final moments are savage in their violence, but it's also cathartic, primal. All in all, this one's worth picking up.

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