Hard cell: A creepy kidnapper wreaks havoc in horror film ‘The Black Phone’.
THE BLACK PHONE *** (103 minutes) MA
If The Black Phone demonstrates anything it’s how clichés are perfectly acceptable when delivered effectively.
You get them all here: sudden stabs of music; flash cuts; jump cuts; jittery camerawork; things appearing out of nowhere, etc. You know the drill. Absolutely standard stuff.
Thing is, director Scott Derrikson deploys them with such mastery you can’t help but react, even when you half-expect them.
Based on a famous short story by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), the story drops us in the middle of 1970s middle American suburbia where kids are being abducted by a black balloon-loving creep called The Grabber (Ethan Hawke). Nobody knows where they end up.
The only tenuous clues the police have are from Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), a schoolgirl whose terrifying dreams offer some psychic insight into the Grabber’s actions and possible locale.
It’s when her brother Finney (Mason Thames) disappears that we are taken into the basement lair of our villain. Taken to wearing an array of frightening masks, he’s a truly frightening sort who is made all the more so because we only get menacing hints as to what his motives are for kidnapping these kids.
Alone in The Grabber’s customized prison cell, Finn receives calls from a black phone on the wall. It’s disconnected, as is Finn’s nightmarish situation from reality. Where are these calls coming from?
There are some pretty good twists and turns as Finn tries making sense of his situation, and as the police flail about with their clumsy investigation, failing to pick up on some pretty obvious clues.
Still, you’ve got to have some sympathy for them. After all, these are gumshoe cops working in the pre-digital era. Indeed, one of the intriguing aspects of The Black Phone is how different its scenario would have been if set present day where The Grabber would have had to contend with ubiquitous security cameras, GPS, phones and social media.
Horrorwise, Derrickson has some form with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister and Deliver Us From Evil. He also made Marvel’s Dr Strange in 2016, the only blot on his copy book being 2008’s execrable remake The Day the Earth Stood Still.
With The Black Phone he’s delivered a juicy slice of well-made horror cheese for the undemanding horror fan who relishes being easily frightened.
Oh, and The Black Phone easily holds up to a second viewing. Interesting how even when you know a scare is coming, it still scares.