The telephone has been used to scare the hell out of horror audiences for years. Pioneering films like Hideo Nakata’s Ring and Bob Clark’s Black Christmas skilfully eked the tension out of the simple act of a phone call in such a creepy and suspenseful way that it made you jump out of your seat.
Following Marvel’s Doctor Strange, Scott Derrickson returns to his horror roots with a horror/drama set in 1978 and based on Joe Hill’s short story of the same name where a black rotary phone provides a line between the living and the dead. It lacks the potency of the aforementioned films, in its brutal depiction of childhood violence and trauma, but the strength of the child actors including Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw and Miguel Cazarez Mora keeps things engaging.
A serial killer nicknamed ‘The Grabber’ (a menacing Ethan Hawke showing off his The Northman bod and reuniting with the director after Sinister) is snatching boys and keeping them hostage in his sound-proof basement. Finney (Mason Thames) lives in fear of being the next one to be taken, while also surviving through the torment of a home filled with violence. His father (Jeremy Davies) is an alcoholic who doles out beatings, and his little sister Gwen (an excellent Madeleine McGraw) is a potty-mouthed psychic who is still learning the nature of her abilities.
Needless to say, Finney gets snatched and most of the film is spent watching him attempt to run away from the grips of his captor – it’s like an extreme escape room adventure where the ghosts of young boys call Finney to give him clues. The film is partly based on Derrickson’s own experiences growing up and it admirably rallies against the notion of childhood nostalgia to pay tribute to the resilience of kids, yet the slight screenplay hits a familiar and repetitive rhythm.
The Black Phone will be in cinemas on 24 June 2022. Read our interview with Scott Derrickson here.