Eighteen years ago, Joe Hill (a.k.a Joseph Hillström King) wrote a short story called The Black Phone. Sixteen years later, even during a worldwide pandemic, a movie adaptation was being cast. Less than one year later, in early 2021, the cast and crew came together to begin principal filming. The eight-week shoot included well-known actor, Ethan Hawke (Moon knight), and relative newcomer, actor, Mason Thames (For All Mankind). The film premiered at Fantastic Fest in September 2021 and in June 2022 it made its theatrical debut. Now, two months later, the horror movie has been released in stores on Blu-ray and DVD.
"Finney" (Thames) lives with his younger sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw; American Sniper) and their alcoholic/abusive father, Terrence (Jeremy Davies; Saving Private Ryan) in a suburb of Denver, Colorado in 1978. After four teenagers are abducted by "The Grabber" (Hawke), the police are looking into any leads possible, which point straight to Gwen. Gwen, like her deceased mother, has psychic abilities and has had dreams (or "visions") of the Grabber and his victims. Wanting to help the police in their investigation, Gwen prays and meditates to help her bring the visions to the forefront of her mind. However, things become even more urgent when Finney becomes the Grabber's fifth victim.
In theory, the concept of The Black Phone is unique and exciting. The idea of teens being abducted and held hostage before being killed is horrifying, especially for a parent. And the use of a prop, in this case, an out-of-order telephone as a way for the Grabber's other victims to talk to Finney from beyond the grave, is clever and inventive. In theory, the audience should jump every time that disconnected phone rings. However, something seems to have gotten lost in translation and the scares are simply not there for the most part.
The Collector's Edition Blu-ray Combo pack is presented in 1080p video quality and a 2.39:1 aspect ratio with Gwen's visions being served up by 8mm footage. The picture is extremely strong, especially considering much of the movie is set in a dark and dingy basement. Details are sharp, colors are clean including the black shadings of "things" lurking in the shadows.
Coupling the video with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, enhances the viewer's experience and creates a truly immersive feel. Again, the phone ringing is loud and clear and ominous in a world full of silence. The dialogue is clear, even from Hawke who speaks from behind a mask much of the time. The combo pack has a few interesting extras to watch, including: Audio Commentary featuring Co-writer/Director Scott Derrickson, Deleted Scenes, Answering the Call: Behind the Scenes of The Black Phone, Devil in the Design, Super 8 Set, and, Shadowprowler - Short Film.
Being the middle child of world-famous author, Stephen King, I can only imagine Hill wanted to make a name for himself without riding on his father's coattails. He has done some excellent work, which any father should be proud of. Unfortunately, the best two things about this movie are the cast and the uniqueness of it. Hawke is menacing and Thames and McGraw are outstanding despite their young age.
The script is mediocre at best and even someone like me who typically hates horror movies was unimpressed with how not scary the film is. They don't give any real insight about why The Grabber takes and kills the teens or how the supernatural element works in terms of the other victims calling Finney.
The Black Phone had some great potential but doesn't live up to many of the expectations laid out.