The Black Phone (2021)

Between the two Sinister films, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us From Evil — hey even Urban Legends: Final Cut and Hellraiser: Inferno, I’ve liked Scott Derrickson’s films. I also allowed myself to get beyond hyped for this movie and it seemed like it would be forever before it was released in theaters. It premiered all the way back at Fantastic Fest in September of last year and then was held until the summer season as it tested so well.

Sadly, I shouldn’t have allowed myself to get so excited.

The Black Phone is about Finney (Mason Thames), a teenager trying to escape a masked serial abductor and killer called The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) by using a disconnected phone on which he can speak to the teens who have not been so lucky.

And I realized maybe twenty minutes into this that this would have made a great episode of a show or piece of an anthology, but there’s no attempt at stretching or filling in the story beats beyond the hackneyed. Worse, the production’s slavish obsession with It — I get it, Steven King’s son is Joe Hill, who wrote the original short story — keeps reminding you of other films other than moving on and making something fresh and new.

Look, I prefer my Michael Myers with no backstory, but when you set up The Grabber as someone with seemingly so fascinating a tale to tell and deliver next to nothing, well…why does he wear those cool Tom Savini masks? You won’t ever find out. The great James Ransone as his goofy brother who is trying to solve the Grabber’s identity? Seemingly from another movie.

This felt like it was doing its best to not be Prisoners, a movie about abducted children and how it impacts their parents that stands heads and shoulders above this. What it does have is some great cinematography by Brett Jutkiewicz and well-realized sound design that pushes this away from being just another thriller — at least in looks — than the rather flimsy film that we’re left behind with. There’s also an astonishing amount of teen on teen violence in this, which places it in a much different world than other films. That’s appreciated. I just wish that this movie felt like it had a purpose for being; it feels so gorgeous on the outside and frightfully free of any content within. From everything I saw before, I felt promised so much more than this slight trifle. a

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