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The Black Phone Is The Thriller Of The Summer {Review}

The Black Phone takes all of your expectations walking into the theater and throws them out the window. Emotional, tough to watch at some points, and surprisingly full of heart, this is one of the best films to come out of the Scott Derrickson/ C. Robert Cargill pairing. Ethan Hawke does fantastic work, some of his best in years, but this film belongs to the kids in the cast, who steal the show in all the best ways. This is one of the strongest films of the summer.

The Black Phone Is The Thriller Of The Summer {Review}
Credit Universal/Blumhouse

The Black Phone Gets It Right

It is the late 1970s when we meet Finney (Mason Thames) and his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw). They come from a troubled home, with an abusive father (Jeremy Davies) and a mother who took her own life. Finney is picked on constantly and lacks self-esteem. His only real friend is Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora), who defends Finney but tells him, "You are going to have to stand up for yourself sooner or later." He doesn't know that sooner is now, as Finney is taken off the street by a child abductor known as "The Grabber," played by Ethan Hawke. Gwen continues to look for her brother, trying to use her "gift" of seeing visions in her dreams, the same gift that caused her mother to commit suicide. Finney, stuck in The Grabber's basement, begins to try to escape, using an old black phone on the wall that allows him to speak to The Grabber's other victims, including Robin.

It is a very intricate and detailed script but well executed by Derrickson. There are no wasted minutes in the 102-minute runtime, which flies by at an incredible pace. Everything we see on screen matters, and the period piece production really grabs you from the start. This is how you do nostalgia, people, not hammering us over the head with it, just putting us in the world and letting us live in it. Derrickson does a great job pacing the film as well, delivering information when we need it and giving us plenty of aha moments to keep us engaged with the events. Like the short story from Joe Hill, which this is based on, it haunts you more than it frightens you, sticking with you hours after the credits roll.

Much of this has to do with the cast, all of whom do wonderful work here. Hawke is especially terrifying in a role that many will identify as one of his career-best. The marketing for the film has rightly focused on The Grabber and his mask, which is frightening to come across. Still, it is the way Hawke changes and tweaks his performance depending on which version of the mask he is wearing; the menace, sadness, and malice he displays are bone-chilling. By the end, when the mask is gone and his full range is on display, he makes you want to cower in the corner.

The Black Phone Is The Thriller Of The Summer {Review}
Credit Universal/Blumhouse

Thankfully, The Black Phone has a pair of heroes who stand up to him. Thames and McGraw steal the whole film and are one of the best brother/sister combos in a film in a long time. Their bonds are deepened in front of us early on as they live their lives with abuse that no child should have to endure. Yet they lean on each other and have themselves to rely on. That is what makes Finney's kidnapping so effective; we instantly worry about how it will affect Gwen. Watching her try to locate him is heartbreaking, and McGraw does a fantastic job portraying the foul-mouthed and determined sister. And what a journey we go on with Finney. Thames is so soft-spoken and meek when we meet him, and we get to see him gain confidence in himself and learn how strong he can be in a slow build that reaches one of the most satisfying endings in a long time.

Everything in this film works and works beautifully. What we are left with is a very memorable villain in The Grabber, a brother/sister combo for the ages, and a smile across your face. This is easily one of the best horror/thriller events of the year, and The Black Phone is in contention for the top ten of 2022.

The Black Phone

The Black Phone Poster Introduces Us To Ethan Hawke's Creepy Killer
Review by Jeremy Konrad

Emotional, tough to watch at some points, and surprisingly full of heart, The Black Phone is the horror/thriller event of the summer. Ethan Hawke does some of his best work, but the film belongs to the young cast, who knock it out of the park.

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Jeremy KonradAbout Jeremy Konrad

Jeremy Konrad has written about collectibles and film for almost ten years. He has a deep and vast knowledge of both. He resides in Ohio with his family.
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