There is a lot of pain being carried by director Scott Derrickson. His 2012 film “Sinister” was not just a throwback to original horror ideas, but also felt like Derrickson releasing some personal demons about his upbringing as well as alcoholism in the family and tragedies that ensue from it. Sinister itself a well thought out and provoking film has been scientifically proven to be the scariest film ever. It’s a fun trophy to have regardless of if you think the film holds up or not (it does). Derrickson is back this time with another tribute to his upbringing this time adapting (with co-writer C. Robert Cargill) a short story by Joe Hill. Hill is actually the son of Stephen King and you can feel the influence, but the screenplay has a dark voice of its own. The Black Phone is another winner from Derrickson that is terrifying, violent and even finds a way to sneak up on you with an emotional tale of sibling love and protection. It is also just a great time at the movies and a reminder of when people flocked during the summer to have a good scream.

The Black Phone opens up much more pleasant than it will eventually and quickly arrive to. A Colorado working class American town in 1978 all enjoying the most American past time there is, a baseball game. Finney (Mason Thames) is at the pitcher’s mound and knows he is only one more out away from winning the game and impressing his crush. Unfortunately the batter Bruce Yamada (Tristan Pravong) knocks the pitch out of the park, but before Finney can walk away in complete defeat, Bruce lets Finney know that “his arm is mint.” All seems good and as Derrickson blasts Edgar Winter’s “Free Ride” this just feels like another joyful day to be a kid. Derrickson keeps the moment quick as Bruce rides home on his bike and comes upon a black van as the film fades into some gnarly super 8 credits. Derrickson (who grew up in the 70’s) does not want to make a film where you spend half of it putting at thing an going “Oh I remember when” nor does he want to paint a pretty picture of the time. Finney and his younger sister Gwen (a wonderful Madeline McGraw) live with their father (Jeremy Davis) who spends his days in a bottle and physically punishing his children. Think back on the idea of many adults telling stories of how their parents hit them as a punishment because “that is just how things were done.” Well Derrickson doesn’t deny this truth but he creates the most horrific scene in an already terrifying film that involves Gwen being attacked with a belt, because her father is angry that Gwen claims her dreams allow her to see things that become real. It is a difficult scene that stays with you even as other things go horribly wrong. Yes Gwen’s dreams allow her to see the face of many children that have gone missing lately by a mysterious figure that is being named The Grabber. Finney however doesn’t have time to worry about this, he is too busy being picked on in school and having to have his much tougher friend Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora) stand up for him. Unfortunately Finney himself finds himself in a situation where nobody can fight his battles for him.

It is quite interesting to realize that Ethan Hawke with his extensive filmography was never in a horror film until Derrickson cast him in Sinister. Now he and Derrickson reunite to check off another thing for Hawke, playing a villain, and since he seems to be great at almost everything he does it surprises no one that Hawke manages to make his serial murder absolutely terrifying all with a single laugh. Hawke stumbles onto the scene as The Grabber as a goth looking Joker. Black clothes and a top hat and a white spray painted looking face. When he kidnaps Finney there is very little conversation between the too and the Grabber doesn’t have time to lure Finney (or any kid he took) into his van as he sprays paint into their mouth and quickly drives away as they go unconscious. Another terrifying moment that plays into Derrickson’s notion that real world violence is scarier above any monster. It also shakes any misremembered notion of longing for the “good ol’ days.” Most of The Black Phone is spent in the grabber’s basement as Finney must find a way out with the help of some supernatural friends. It is a very intriguing concept that is elevated even more by Derrickson’s camera set up that slowly whips and pans to reveal some big frights as well as heighten the action and emotions. But what makes The Black Phone stand out even more is that the script handles its topic of murdered children with the utmost respect and care. Many of them are given larger backstories and a reminder that even though they are there to often scare the audience at the end of the day this was somebody’s kid who is never coming home. These moments carried by Mark Korven’s hammering score brings tears to your eyes.

The Black Phone is not an advocate for violence (far from it), but there is a strong element of learning to stand up for yourself. This is not written for the sense of learning to be strong in case you get kidnapped; no this is more there are monsters everywhere and you can learn to protect your loved ones. Gwen spends most of the film using her dreams to try and find Finney ignoring the strict orders from her father. There is a sibling love here that has not been seen in quite some time in films let alone horror. While the events of IT may have started with a brother not being able to protect his brother, The Black Phone instead uses that love to be the biggest driving force. Finney and Gwen even in outside of the Grabber’s world are still in danger, and it will be their protection of one another that will keep them safe. The Black Phone knows what it is and never fakes being something else. A smart, exciting, horrifying and emotional horror movie and one that they don’t make enough of. It is very much worth your time and will be having you wait excitedly for Derrickson’s next film.



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