5.5/10 After five years away, director Scott Derrickson returns to horror after his break up with Marvel Studios. Derrickson’s last film was “Doctor Strange” but creative differences saw him part ways with Marvel and dropping out of the recently released sequel. Marvel was smart to replace him with Sam Raimi but incredibly stupid to hire screenwriter Michael Waldron, resulting in an underwhelming, though visually stunning movie. Derrickson reunites with screenwriter C. Robert Cargill, who he worked on “Sinister” with. Adapted from a short story by Joe Hill, the son of Stephen King, “The Black Phone” follows a 13 year-old kidnap victim who is locked in the basement of “The Grabber”, (which was also my nickname in community college) played by Ethan Hawke; a deranged child murderer and part time magician (aren’t they all?). While the movie has some strong aspects that work well, this ends up being a disappointment overall. As for what works, let’s dive into the positive aspects. Taking place in 1978, the production design and costume design expertly take us back to that specific moment in time, before cell phones and modern technology. I always prefer horror movies that taken place before cell phones and the internet because it adds an element of fear and stress that the victims can’t easily reach out for help. Criminals were harder to catch before cameras were nearly everywhere, hence why we have far less serial killers today than we did in the 70s and 80s. The movie looks good and is visually pleasing with its dark colors and tones matching the sinister vibes. The casting is strong with some great acting. While we all know that Hawke is a great actor (even when half of his face is covered), it is the two main child actors who steal the show. Mason Thames plays Finney, the kidnapped teenager and Madeleine McGraw plays Gwen, his foul mouthed sister. McGraw was probably my favorite part of the movie and the brother/sister dynamic was easily the strongest emotional positive that the movie had going for it (it might have helped that I saw this with my sister). Their relationship feels real and authentic and you feel their pain when one (or both) of them is suffering. The movie is just over an hour and a half so the pacing works well and the movie is constantly moving forward. As for what doesn’t work, most of the issues come about via the script. There are moments or things that just don’t make sense. When Finney is abducted, he stabs The Grabber with his rocket ship pen, which is fine. What is extremely dumb is that The Grabber then proceeds to let the boy keep his pen, never taking away what has already been used as a weapon against him. A successful kidnapper/child murderer would know that you don’t give your victim any possibility of harming you or escaping, yet he lets the boy keep the pen and has other items down in the basement that any victim could potentially use to help them escape. Another issue occurs once The Grabber’s brother moves in with him. First off, a serial killer who absolutely does not want to get caught most likely wouldn’t let anyone move in with them for fear that they might discover that the basement is always locked, they aren’t allowed to enter it and their brother for some odd reason keeps bringing food down into the basement. This happens so the plot can move forward but makes no sense. The Grabber also sits in the kitchen with his mask on, opening the basement door to tempt his victims into trying to escape, only for The Grabber to take them back into the basement and kill them. What happens if The Grabber’s brother were to walk in on any of this? Even though his brother is a drug addict, he takes cocaine, which would make him more hyper, not a drug that would put him to sleep. The chances of The Grabber getting caught while any of this stuff happens skyrockets up, which is silly. Finally, the movie isn’t scary for a horror movie and I’d expect a seasoned director like Derrickson to not rely so heavily on cheap jump scares, yet he does for some reason. In the end, despite some strong acting and solid visuals, “The Black Phone” ends up being forgettable due to its horror clichés and a rather weak script. If you want to see Derrickson and Ethan Hawke at their best collaboration, hang up this phone and check out “Sinister” instead.

#ThePhoneOfColor / #OrderTicketsViaBlackMoviefone / #HawkeStalkAndTwoProvokingPerils / #BlackhatManAndRobin / #ScreenwriterPhoningItIn / #GwenPushComesToShove

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