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Blu-ray Review: The Black Phone (Collector’s Edition)

September 21, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The Black Phone is a Blumhouse-produced thriller that finds director Scott Derrickson reuniting with Ethan Hawke, the star of his 2012 film Sinister (which is still one of the most genuinely disturbing modern horror movies).

This time around, Hawke takes on the villainous role of The Grabber, a masked creep snatching children off the streets of North Denver in 1978, and loading them into his black van to be taken back to his basement. The community has been rocked by these abductions, with newspaper headlines and missing person posters greeting the local kids on the way to school.

The protagonist of the film is Finney Blake (Mason Thames), a young teenager who gets taken by The Grabber, and held captive in his basement. Much of the film takes place in this barren basement, which has a mysterious black phone on the wall. The wire has been cut, but it keeps ringing, connecting Finney to previous victims.

Based on a short story by Joe Hill, which has been adapted for the screen by Derrickson (who stepped away from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in order to make this) and co-writer C. Robert Cargill, The Black Phone mixes the tropes of a coming-of-age movie with elements of child abduction thriller and supernatural horror. The heart of the story comes from the close bond between Finney and his younger sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), who is having omniscient dreams.

Right from the opening sequence of the local kids playing baseball, Derrickson’s film does a good job of transporting us back to the late-1970s, with the director setting it in the time and place where he grew up. This period setting is one of the main strengths of The Black Phone, giving the otherwise fairly straight-forward story a nostalgic, old school feel that really helps carry it. The film is elevated by the very good work of cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz, who captures the look and texture of the 1970s using anamorphic lenses and even mixing in some Super 8 elements.

If The Black Phone isn’t as outright scary as something like Sinister, and certain characters and plot elements don’t feel as fleshed out as they could have been, Derrickson brings a disturbing, unsettling atmosphere to the film, and crafts moments of suspense. At the centre of it is a very creepy turn from Hawke, whose face is at least partially obscured by a mask for much of his screen time, but manages to do some very unnerving things with his voice and gestures. It’s a pretty effective little mystery that is completely evocative of its time period, and all the better for it.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The “Collector’s Edition” Blu-ray includes a handful of bonus features. A regular DVD and code for a digital copy are also included in the package, which ships with a slipcover.

Deleted Scenes (Play All – 1 minute, 21 seconds): Two brief moments clipped from the film, which feel more like extended scenes.

Is This America Now? (49 seconds)

No Dreams (29 seconds)

Ethan Hawke’s Evil Turn (4 minutes, 25 seconds): Hawke talks about taking on such a dark role for really the first time in his career, and having to act with mainly his voice from behind the mask.

Answering the Call: Behind the Scenes of The Black Phone (10 minutes, 40seconds): Looks at the themes of the story, and working with the child actors.

Devil in the Design (5 minutes, 15 seconds): The crew discusses the period details of the film, from production design to costumes and makeup and hairstyling. Also looks at the design of The Grabber’s unnerving mask.

Super 8 Set (1 minute, 48 seconds): Cinematographer Jutkiewicz discusses using anamorphic lenses and shooting sequences on 8mm film to evoke the time period.

Shadowprowler (11 minutes, 57 seconds): A pretty good short film centred around a home invasion, directed by Derrickson and starring his two sons.

Feature Commentary by Producer/Co-Writer/Director Scott Derickson

The Black Phone is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 103 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: September 20th, 2022

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