Where i Watched it: Peacock
English Audio Description?: Yes
Horror is not my genre. It’s not that I haven’t seen a ton of horror films, I just do not enjoy films set up entirely for gore that have no plot, and I also feel the genre is flooded with films by hack directors that rely only on cheap jump scares in films with little to no structure or plot. Gore for gore’s sake, that’s a pass for me. Give me a good plot, give me a building story arc, give me characters to be invested in, and stop with the fake jump scares that are just loud noises in quiet scenes. That takes no skill. Dropping the sound out, and having a dog bark suddenly… that is not a skill.
Luckily, Scott Derrickson, who previously gave us Doctor Strange, as well as the well received Sinister, is back with a film that intends to do something new within its own genre. It plays on that part of your childhood where your parents reminded you constantly about stranger danger and vans, and you heard stories about creepy guys who would pull up and ask you if you could help them look for their lost dog, or that they have something really cool in the van. You sit have to come a little closer.
For our main character, Finney (played like a revelation by Mason Thames), he’s already aware of The Grabber. Four boys have already gone missing. his neighborhood has a serious bully problem, and his dad (Jeremy Davies) doesn’t do anything to help. He does have a sister, Gwen (also played really well by Madeline McGraw), and the two of them face life together.
That is, until one day, Finney meets The Grabber. And then, it becomes a story of survival. The Grabber (Ethan hawke) is clearly unstable, but does seem to have some set of rules that only he’s aware of. And, presumably, Finney could survive if he followed these rules. But with no guidance from the grabber, he seems to trigger him without warning.
That is, until the black phone rings. The black phone that isn’t hooked up to anything. Soon, Finney (and the audience) realize that he’s getting help from the boys who previously sat where Finney is right now, and are still missing. With each clue comes a new piece of the puzzle. A chance for Finney to make a break for it.
And Derrickson builds real tension. Most of the time, we assume kids don’t die in films, so when they do, it’s always shocking. Let’s be honest, if that decapitation in Hereditary hadn’t happened, most people would be less impressed by that film. But up front, it set the tone that kids are not safe in this film, and The Black phone does that too. There’s no promise that Finney will survive this situation, and he finds himself so close to death multiple times, you will find yourself holding your breath.
On the other side, his sister is getting visions, trying to pray to God for help in finding her brother. The images aren’t making sense to her right away, but she’s in her own race against time to save her brother. Will Gwen save Finney? Will Finney save himself? or, will the producers be more interested in a Black Phone 2? You may want a certain ending,but I believe Derrickson does enough right up until the last moment to suggest to you that anything is possible, and nothing is promised.
Even as a blind viewer, i found this incredibly unnerving. Just the different masks the Grabber wears alone were creepy, but the tone never lets up. The audio description did a good job of managing to give detail, but not so far in advance of a scary moment that it ruined the well timed and earned jump scare. That’s the thing here, is that the scares are earned. The gore isn’t over the top, but rather realistic and very much in the moment. It’s not torture porn, though Finney very much goes through what a lot of people would consider psychological torture.
Truth be told, with 114 films seen as of me writing this, I’m not ashamed to say this is my favorite film of the year so far. It would be an odd pick for Best Picture, but if I were an Oscar voter, and this was the end of the year (first, I’d catch up on a few titles), but I’d ahve no problem voting for this. I’d also vote for Mason Thames for Best Actor, because like we’ve seen from a few child actors recently, in films like Antlers and C’Mon C’Mon, we are really having a moment here where child actors are quite brilliant, and I wish Thames the best moving forward. He’s incredible, as all the kids are in this film, but he carries this, and deserves all the praise.
It’s outside my typical love, the things I am predisposed to enjoy, and I am saying without hesitation, The Black Phone is a must see.
Final Grade: A