The Black Phone follows a boy in late 70s Denver who his captured by a masked psycho. But with the help of the spirits of victims past and his clairvoyant sister, he plans his escape before the man commits unspeakable horrors upon him.
[This movie was seen on Peacock at the time of this review.]
The Black Phone Review
The Black Phone is worthy of discussion amidst the "good" films of 2022, though it may only be flirting with the "great" list. While there are certainly more positives to this film than negatives, it is by no means flawless and struggles at times in its pacing, atmosphere, and acting. Let's dive in.
Firstly, let's speak to the truly great elements of the film. Ethan Hawke does a fantastic job as the kidnapping child murderer, putting on a performance that is truly disturbing, unhinged, and unpredictable. The piece manages to take the quality of modern technology and apply it to an atmosphere that feels at home in late 70s suburbs, complete with alcoholic abusive fathers fresh off of the trauma of war. The set pieces and subtlety to the ghosts seems to add more than take away, even if at times it feels like it was pushing for a PG-13 rating.
The film does however seem to struggle in some areas. The pacing is not a strength, especially early on, and some artistic choices and script excerpts feel awkward coming from the actors. The ambience of the film is generally great, capturing that 70s/80s slasher feel without diving deep into the sleaze and cheese that often followed such productions. Yet, with much of the film playing from the perspective of children, it often felt like a PG caper akin to a toned-down The Lovely Bones.
If I were to compare it to anything, that would be the film. Where The Lovely Bones takes the unique perspective of the victim's spirit in the afterlife (with more levity and brightness than one might expect), this film focuses on the perspective of the clairvoyant children who can communicate with the victims, with a much darker tone. Yet, there are times when Lovely Bones' weird blend of hopefulness and hopelessness bleeds into The Black Phone, leading to a similarly awkward feel during some moments.
Essentially, this leads to The Black Phone simply not carrying much tension or weight when Hawke isn't in the room. The interactions on the phone itself slowly becomes methodical and predictable, to the point that you can't wait for all of the puzzle pieces to be put together so we can get to the final act and see how it all resolves. There is enough darkness and hopelessness present throughout that it carries a sense of unreliability as to the safety of our protagonist, which helps with the Silence of the Lambs-esque moments we get. But at the end of the day, it has a mild nature to it that makes it feel like a gateway R-rated horror movie for couples and unsure friends to share.
Despite the disturbing material it tackles, it remains rather kind to the audience and leaves much to one's own imagination. So long as you avoid letting your mind trail off down the path of this serial killer's methods, you simply won't be traumatized by merely what happens on screen.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 8/10
Horror Quality: 6/10
Film Quality: 7/10
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