Nerdlocker Movie Review: The Black Phone

“I believe the only way to reform people is to kill them.” – Carl Panzram

What is it about serial killers that we find so fascinating? Is it the excitement in living vicariously through someone else as they carry out heinous acts of villainy that we would never dare attempt in our real lives? Or is it something more sinister? Perhaps it’s something we secretly wish we had the courage to attempt only to be contained by societal rule. I like to think I’m in the camp of fascination without the desire to recreate. But sometimes I have dark thoughts. I often wonder what I would do if I simply gave into them. If lawlessness took over our way of life would the thought of murder bother me as much as I imagine it would now?

I remember when I was a child I “believed” everything my dad would spout off in some grown man temper tantrum. I was a republican and Mark Levin was a hero of mine. It makes me sick to even type that but the influence of authority was very real, especially as an impressionable child. It wasn’t until my early days of high school that I began to “see things” with my own two eyes. The reason I bring this up is I wonder if I fell for those things because of an authority figure, what else do I hold true simply because I was taught or influenced to do or say or think in such a way? If I grew up in a rural forest with little to no influence from the modern world, would I view death, in this case murder, in the same manner? I don’t know.

The Black Phone is a perfect combination of successful serial killer bloodlust and thankfully a desire for the good to triumph over the seemingly insurmountable evil. On one hand it’s exhilarating to watch as Ethan Hawke stalks and captures his next victim. On the other a wave of euphoria washes over you as he stumbles and hopefully loses. I won’t spoil anything but both good and evil have their day in the sun in this story.

I’m starting to notice a pattern in the horror movies that I’m drawn to recently and it often involves the youth. When an adult is in danger from an evil entity, whatever it may be, there are the biases and lack of beliefs that follow that character. Often their imagination, like with most adults, isn’t what it once was. But a child, in fear of a shapeshifting clown (IT) or a ghostly apparition (The Conjuring 1 & 2) and suddenly you have not just the antagonist(s) of the story but the power of a fully intact and unadulterated imagination. That can be either a powerful tool in the hands of a brave child or a dangerous weapon in the hands of a villain. I think the draw for me, and maybe others, is the idea of being faced with something so daunting and despite a lack of experience still finding a way to overcome that obstacle. It’s a desire of courage that we as adults wish we had when we were younger and the world felt so unbelievably massive.

For the kids of Derry, Maine, the grown-ups of their small town were in a simultaneous state of fear and disbelief leading to inaction despite their children going missing at an alarming rate. It becomes the burden of the yet-to-be-taken kids to solve and defeat their ancient adversary. And even though an evil resides over their existence, the bullies of the world simply don’t care and the common issues of being a kid still persist. All at once they must battle something trying to starve their very youth and the bullies that make that youth at times highly undesirable. It’s almost a fight to remain miserable. That’s a horror story all its own.

For the kids in The Black Phone, they must deal with the myth of a boogieman who hears anyone that speaks his name and the reality of a child murderer on the prowl. It feels as if he takes at will and has no reason to fear any repercussions. Much like the parents of Derry, it would seem the adults of this town are helpless as this evil takes the very innocence that is their progeny. This means the kids, despite their wildest imaginations, must face the man known only as, The Grabber, all on their own. The Black Phone is the story of one brave young man as he faces the greatest evil he will ever know. Little does he know of the help that awaits him just a quick phone call away.

I hope this is the beginning of Ethan Hawke taking on more villain roles because he seems to have a knack for it. As The Grabber he is a formidable but highly unstable murderer that conveys his instability with absolute brilliance. He has an absurd balancing act of being kind and delicate and without provocation switching to a maniacal, eccentric child demon. He embodies the fears of a small child as he is always in some form masked in a façade of a smiling or frowning devil, a mouthless creature and combinations of all of them. His voice is dainty and rarely lowers to anything resembling normal adult tones. He is almost childlike himself but when this particular “youngling” plays, people die. He has a wispy personality and uses it to disarm and off put his victims. Hawke is spooky good.

If I had to find anything that wasn’t so much a bad thing but a bit distracting at times is the level of violence the kids often display. We’ve all seen fights at school. How many of them ended with someone actually needing the hospital afterwards? Almost never. And yet every time in this movie when bullies face their weaker peers or someone gets their comeuppance it involves cracked skulls, likely broken noses and actual deadly weapons like a switchblade. A junior high school aged child whips out a very real switchblade and attempts to use it in an otherwise ordinary school aged fight. It feels a bit much at times. But I’d be lying if I said that in some sick and twisted way, it’s really entertaining. It’s what you’d wish for your own bullies growing up. I know, I know it’s not nice to wish such things on anyone blah blah blah… Just blame it one the dark thoughts I mentioned earlier.

Ultimately I find The Black Phone to be more thriller than horror. This is still a very scary film at times with ghosts and gore and blood but overall its greatest strength lies in the determination of The Grabber’s latest victim trying to become the first survivor in a game of killer cat and mouse. It is tension-filled and an absolute blast. The characters are well-rounded and lively, especially the children. They are smart! It’s so refreshing when a story doesn’t rely on its characters being oblivious. It’s surprisingly humorous and despite all the evil, there is a big heart at the center of it. The story is about good trying to triumph over evil and the overall tone of the story is one of hope that good does in fact triumph. It’s not exactly what I was expecting but I’m perfectly okay with what I was shown. It works on pretty much every level and is sure to entertain anyone interested in what The Black Phone has to offer.

Rated R For: violence, bloody images, language and some drug use
Runtime: 102 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies
Directed By: Scott Derrickson

Out of 10 Nerdskulls
Story: 9/ Acting: 9/ Directing: 9/ Visuals: 8.5
OVERALL: 9 Nerdskulls

Buy to Own: Yes.

Check out the trailer below:

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Chase Gifford

"Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world"-Jean-Luc Godard