The Black Phone was developed in 1978 and the film''s setting is very deliberate. In this case, the director Scott Derrickson should use the same type of blaring 70s needle-drops, but the nostalgic sounds of Pink Floyd, Sweet, and Chic are also seen in Warner Bros'' recent two-part adaptation of Stephen Kings It. It also demonstrates realism to the barrage of scenes in which children mercilessly bully and beat the snot out of each other, indicating a sense of danger.
In the early 70s, serial killings in America were not the peak period. (That didnt happen until the mid-80s.) But a number of high-profile cases did break during that period, and the rise in overall crime rates aided the general public. However, attitudes about child care were somewhat sensitive. 1978 was the time when unsupervised children were dragged into unmarked vans.
The Black Phone, based on a short story from Locke & Key and author Joe Hill, exploits this fear early on, with large shots of vans lurking behind gaggles of kids walking home from school alongside close-ups of missing-children flyers on community bulletin boards. Siblings Finney (Mason Thames) and Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) are aware of the rumors behind those disappearances, attributed to a local boogeyman.
Anyone who says the Grabbers name aloud will be shocked. Finney believes that the myth, which exposes him to mockery from his younger sister Gwen. Ultimately, his fear is justified. First, his best friend, Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora), a youngster who loves horror films, is kidnapped in a concrete cell in the basement of an anonymous, shabby house in their low-income Denver neighborhood.
Most of the film takes place in the Grabbers basement, just like the entire Hills original story. Here, Finney communicates with the deceased five previous victims in the black phone of the title. (The cord has been cut, but the phone still rings. Spooky!) Each of these boys tried to escape The Grabber in his own way, and each one one offers advice on how to survive wherever they could. As one boy says, If you dont play, he cant win.
The Black Phone is a shocking experience, particularly in the slow-motion overhead shots that glide over groups of adults with flashlights, looking for children who are already dead. In this film, parents are unconcerned, and all their best clues come from Gwens prophetic dreams. (Joe Hill is Stephen Kings'' son.)
The Black Phone is a messy affair out of fear. The performances, which range from puzzling to overly creepy. Jeremy Davies is also too all over the world to read as appreciative, right? What does he think about, and how does it fit into his psychosis? It''s not the first and last time that character detail will appear in the film.
Hawke oscillates between childlike innocence and throaty growling, without the commitment that makes similar performances so unnerving. (Think James McAvoy throwing himself into his multiple personalities in Split, for example.) An intense vocal performance would have greatly helped The Grabber and his twisted game of naughty boy elicit gasps rather than chortling.
The Black Phones'' tense moments outside the basement get even worse. The film isn''t as egregious as the infamous Angel of the Morning vomiting-leper sequence in It: Chapter Two, but the films are similarly unearned and effective. Add jump scares that do nothing beyond adding visual interest to repetitive scenes of Finney talking on the phone in an empty room, and The Black Phone manages to preserve everything that made the Hills short story so creepy and undermine it at the same time.
The Black Phone is set to release in theaters on June 24.
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