Over the past few years, the horror genre has experienced a thrilling renaissance. Fans have been thrilled to see unique new ideas and franchises hitting theaters, many of which come from Blumhouse Productions. The legendary house of horror brought us modern classics like get out, Halloween, The invisible Man and Claim. This latest project was released in 2012, directed by strange doctor filmmaker Scott Derrickson and star Ethan Hawke. This pair collaborated again on the new horror movie The black phoneand they are a match made in horror heaven.
Based on the 2004 short story of the same name by Joe Hill, The black phone is set in 1978 Colorado, which is a time setting that helps keep things particularly spooky; it’s always more exciting when a horror movie can avoid phones. The film focuses on the Shaw family: siblings Finney and Gwen (played by Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw, respectively) and alcoholic father, Mr. Shaw (Jeremy Davies). While the family is in the midst of interpersonal conflict, Finney is kidnapped by the masked villain known as The Grabber (Ethan Hawke).
Our young protagonist Finney is placed in a basement cell by The Grabber, where he attempts to find a way to survive the terrifying character. Although it might play out like a standard survival story, Scott Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill include supernatural elements in their horror story. Because Finney’s cell includes a disconnected rotary phone, with which he can communicate with the voices of The Grabber’s previous victims. Also, his sister Gwen has psychic visions and tries to find and save her brother on her own.
Scott Derrickson Is A Master Of Horror, And Black Phone Scares Prove It
Filmmaker Scott Derrickson directed and wrote The black phone‘s screenplay, so the particular vision of its director is at the heart of the new project. While he’s become a household name thanks to his work on Marvel’s strange doctor, its roots have always been in horror. That sensibility helped bring the Marvel movie’s trippy visuals to life, but Derrickson’s return to horror is sure to delight fans of the genre.
Indeed, it seems that Derrickson applied the best parts of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Claim to bring this supernatural period piece to life. Like the latter film, Derrickson uses Super 8 film while capturing some of the scary moments. Whereas in Claim it was the horrible murder tapes, in The black phone, we see each of the Grabber’s abductions through this lens. It’s an unsettling motif that helps build tension throughout the film’s first act.
While the horror genre has been criticized for relying on jumps, Scott Derrickson isn’t going that route with his new film. Indeed, the first does not occur until about halfway through the film. Instead, Derrickson uses simple but effective ways to keep audiences terrifying throughout his 102-minute runtime. Calls for the dead and visits from The Grabber certainly help to boost the excitement, as do protagonist Finney’s escape attempts and his sister’s psychic vision of The Grabber’s victims. One particular scene shows the character of Mason Thames trying to unlock a combination lock, which, while simple in nature, is one of the most gripping moments in The black phone. The horror action oscillates between supernatural and realistic, making the movie’s runtime really fly by.
Ethan Hawke’s Grabber Is A Truly Captivating Horror Villain
So many great horror movies are known for their villains, including the films of Scott Derrickson. Whereas Claim introduces the demonic Bughuul, the antagonist of The black phone is nothing more than a man; an extremely disturbing man known as The Grabber, played by the great Ethan Hawke. The 51-year-old actor went from horror victim to abuser, and the transformation is truly captivating.
Part of what makes Ethan Hawke’s Grabber so intriguing is the character’s signature mask, which was designed by Tom Savin. During Finney’s stay in his cell, we see different shapes of The Grabber’s mask, as it comes off in pieces. In some scenes Hawke’s eyes are visible, in others just his mouth. It helps to make the Childhood the actor’s already solid performance into a puzzle that the audience must slowly piece together.
While playing the villain can be a challenge, Ethan Hawke’s masked antagonist is a chilling new presence that has the potential to be a truly iconic horror villain. It’s easy to see how much care he took in his performance, and it’s thrilling to see how his mask informs his physical performance as The Grabber. And since we learn he’s a serial killer, Scott Derrickson and company could probably have plenty of stories to tap into if they’re so inspired.
Both the story and the ending of the black phone are very satisfying.
Aside from needing a gripping villain, the most common mistake in horror movies is a bad ending. Many of these films simply died out in the third act or introduced a new concept that took away from the film’s tone. Fortunately, The black phone is super successful in its end.
As mentioned earlier, the supernatural element of The black phone comes in the form of the titular telephone in Finney’s cell, as well as the psychic vision of his sister Gwen. These two stories really come together in the third act in a way that connects many moments throughout the film’s runtime. The ending shows how methodically Scott Derrickson approached the story of this film and why he is such a force in the horror genre.
It’s so easy for a horror movie to not totally stick on landing, enough that fans like me are sometimes ready to accept it after hours of scare. But The black phoneThe finale shows why the genre continues to have such a moment at the box office. Globally, The black phone is everything you want in a horror movie: terrifying, thrilling, and with an ending you won’t forget.