‘The Black Phone’ Starring Ethan Hawke Is A Truly Scary Horror Movie

Less is often more in a horror story, but not with “The Black Phone.”

Scott Derrickson’s film, about a kidnapper and serial killer terrorizing a city in the 1970s, expands on Joe Hill’s short story from his excellent horror collection “20th Century Ghosts.” Closing a story down to feature length can backfire – sometimes the result is a bloated mess.

Not so this time. Derrickson is once again teaming up with co-writer C. Robert Cargill and star Ethan Hawke – the team behind the genuinely disturbing 2012 horror flick “Sinister.”

Hill’s short story is sober and effective. Hill is the son of Stephen King. I really like King, but “simple” and “effective” are not words often used to describe his work.

It is the story of a kidnapper and serial killer whose latest prey discovers an old telephone in the basement where he is being held. The phone, against all reason, rings. Things progress from there.

Slow build up adds to the feeling of dread

This is more or less what happens in the film version of “The Black Phone”. Especially more.

Derrickson expands the story to include the story of the abductions and offers insight into the home life of the boy – 13-year-old Finny, played by the exceptional Mason Thames.

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Accumulation is patient and it works.

We meet other victims and we see Finny and his younger sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) struggle with their father (Jeremy Davies), an angry and violent alcoholic who has been broken by the death of his wife.

Gwen is tough (and looks like a tank top). Although younger, she sometimes gets Finny out of traffic jams, such as when bullies pick on him.

She, like her late mother, can see things in her dreams and her visions come true. Her father is livid whenever he learns that Gwen used this power and takes away her bitterness.

Derrickson doesn’t rush the introduction of this world, which at times feels less fantastical, grittier, and grittier”stranger thingsspinoff, only with more brutal kid fighting.

The best thing about the buildup is the sense of dread it creates in audiences – a crucial ingredient of good horror. You know something bad is going to happen. You just don’t know when or how. (That’s why the late afternoon scenes in “Halloween” are so creepy. There are echoes of that vibe here.)

The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) and Finney Shaw (Mason Thames) in

The movie only works if Ethan Hawke is scary. And he is

Eventually it does, when the Grabber – the killer’s nickname, played with appropriate derangement by Hawke – kidnaps Finny. (This is not a spoiler. This is the basis of the film.)

And sure enough, there’s an old black telephone in the basement, and sure enough, it’s ringing.

Here, too, Derrickson draws on Hill’s story, as the deceased victims of the Grabber phone Finny with advice and warnings. In life and in death, Finny is insisted that one day he will have to defend himself.

Meanwhile, Gwen uses her powers to help, as the adults are no match for it. From cursing at cops to having rude one-sided conversations with Jesus, McGraw is excellent as the girl who’s just done putting up with the problems in her life. (She’s also hilarious.)

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Thames is believable as a scared kid who has to come to terms with the idea of ​​running away and knowing it won’t be easy – if it’s even possible. Particularly for an actor in his first feature film, he mixes terror and resolution beautifully.

Of course, none of this works if Hawke’s Grabber isn’t scary.

Adorned with a bizarre two-piece mask (and the occasional top hat), he is. The mask means he has to do a lot of work with his voice and body language, and he does.

There’s also a pragmatic way to his twisted actions that makes them particularly unsettling. Apparently, in his own head, he’s just going about his business, no matter how gruesome.

It all adds up to a really effective movie. The call from “The Black Phone” is the one you’ll want to answer.

‘The Black Phone’ 4.5 stars

Awesome ★★★★★ Good ★★★★

Correct ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★

Director: Scott Derrickson.

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw.

Evaluation: R for violence, bloody images, language and some drug use.

To note: In theaters June 24.

Contact Goodykoontz on [email protected]. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: @goodyk. To subscribe to the weekly movie newsletter.

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