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Review: Ethan Hawke's 'The Black Phone' Lulls & Rises in a Terrifying Setting
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Review: Ethan Hawke's 'The Black Phone' Lulls & Rises in a Terrifying Setting

'The Black Phone' directed by Scott Derrickson hits theatres in India on 24 June.

Published
Movie Reviews
3 min read

The Black Phone

Review: Ethan Hawke's 'The Black Phone' Lulls & Rises in a Terrifying Setting

Scott Derrickson and Ethan Hawke formed a marginally successful horror pair in the 2012 release Sinister and the duo has collaborated again for the horror-thriller The Black Phone. While Sinister faced criticism from some fronts for relying too heavily on jump scares and overused horror tropes, the filmmaker has stuck to his guns in his latest venture too.

However, he seems to have refined his art, creating a more colourful, immersive atmosphere in The Black Phone.

A still from 'The Black Phone'.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube) 

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Hawke, who plays the serial killer (dubbed) the Grabber, has rarely dabbled in villanous roles, barring perhaps the morally gray character he played in Moon Knight. That being said, he is impressively adept at playing an ominous figure that inspires terror purely by his presence.

He does, however, sway into queer-coded mannerisms, similar to the ones Buffalo Bill (Jame Gumb) was criticised for in The Silence of the Lambs, which is a shame. While Ethan Hawke’s performance is brilliant and lends to most of the terror in The Black Phone, he is aided by brilliant co-stars. Mason Thames as Finney Shaw, who is the Grabber’s most recent victim and the one we root for, helps the audience buy into the supernatural and fantastical setting.

Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw in a still from 'The Black Phone'.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Perhaps one of the most stellar performances on screen comes from Madeleine McGraw as Finney’s younger sister Gwen who uses her psychic abilities to help her brother.

As a concept, The Black Phone is rather basic but there is a charm in old time horror flicks and Derrickson, a horror fan himself, uses horror tropes and references to build his narrative. This, of course, means that the movie lulls at points and the plot seems derivative and trite but, just as easily, it picks up.

The idea of a serial killer who abducts children and often appears as a magician with a frankly terrifying mask is, in itself, enough to inspire terror but in certain places in The Black Phone, there is scope for horror that is underutilised. Playing devil’s advocate to myself, one must also remember that this scope only becomes visible if a plot is gripping enough.

Ethan Hawke as the 'Grabber' in 'The Black Phone'.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube) 

The Black Phone, however, understands the setting that it is in; both the time period and the genre. Many parts will remind you of It, Silence of the Lambs, and even Stranger Things.

A still from 'The Black Phone' which is reminiscent of 'It'.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube) 

The film is set in North Denver in 1978. The 70s and 80s were a dark time with serial killers like Bundy or Dahmer, and copycat killers filling headlines and they had eventually started entering pop culture as well.

Now, in 2022, the ‘serial killer’ plot isn’t enough to create a persistent horror. While the Grabber is conceptualised well, he remains an ominous figure to look out for at every corner and that’s about it.

This puts the Grabber in danger of becoming just another name in villains that are dime a dozen instead of becoming an iconic terror-inducing persona. The Black Phone is scary no doubt and some of the jump scares work criminally well but it seems to be on the penultimate rung of the metaphorical ladder to notoriety.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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