Scott Dereckson is a household name in American horror cinema, having directed creepy films such as Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us from Evil. After a brief stint with Marvel, Dereckson returns to his horror roots with The Black Phone, a horror thriller starring Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Davies and Mason Thames.
The Black Phone takes place in Denver where a masked killer known only as The Grabber has begun kidnapping and murdering unsuspecting children. As the police struggle to prevent each new kidnapping, siblings Finney and go about their lives, unbeknownst that one of them is about to be next. When 13 year old Finney is captured by the killer, Finney will have to rely not only on his ingenuity but also on help from unexpected places as he struggles to stay alive long enough for the police to discover where he and the other survivors are being held.
The central premise of a masked killer kidnapping children might have been done to death before but where the film really creatively shines is how the victim outsmarts the antagonist. Dereckson allows the main character to seek help from unexpected places, places which horror aficionados will not expect. It is clear that the makers behind the project took a long, hard look at the genre and decided to come up with something fresh and exciting to ensure they created something original. Masked villains have been the staple of horror cinema for over fifty years now and what Dereckson has done to elevate the genre therefore deserves special acclaim.
In the acting department, the child actors do their best but leave a lot to be desired. There have been some truly great child actor performances in horror films in the past decade but viewers may find no comparative performance here. However, not to worry as veteran thespian Ethan Hawke delivers a mesmerising performance as the deranged and disturbed masked killer. With his motives only becoming clear by the end, Hawke’s The Grabber is a terrifying incarnation. Not only is he brutal but he is also fairly intelligent; a deadly combination when it comes to a horror movie antagonist. As the cat and mouse game between The Grabber and Finney escalates, the two employ a variety of mental and creative tricks to bring the other to their knees.
Every good horror film should have some creative jumpscares and The Black Phone excels in this department as well. There are two well placed scares and both will scare the living soul out of anyone who is watching the film closely. This is not all as both the cinematography and sound editing are also top notch, elevating the unnerving atmosphere of the story and enhancing its disturbing elements as well. The creepy atmosphere sells the entire premise and makes the final showdown between Finney and The Grabber that much more exciting.
Blatant displays of carnage are another aspect which make the film more disturbing than it has any right to be. From axe stabbings to mutilated dead bodies that come alive in the darkness, this film has proper scares, one that will stay with the audience long after the film has ended. Dereckson carefully ensures that the gore and violence does not overshadow the main story, which is of a boy coming to terms with himself and believing in his own strength.
Scott Dereckson’s The Black Phone is thus a well made, scary and unnerving horror film. The film has some great jump scares and the performance of Ethan Hawke as the villain elevates the whole story as well. There are aspects of the production that could have been more polished but we are not complaining. The Black Phone is therefore not only one of the better horror movies to come out this year but it is a genuinely creepy and ingenuitive gem that furthers Dereckson’s streak as one of the top horror directors of this generation.
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