March 25, 2023

I like Ethan Hawke, although I am by no means certain if it is as a result of I want he was my flawed father figure or my intellectually stimulating one-night stand. The Black Phone, a 2022 horror-thriller now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, relieves me of this alternative by turning the Gen-X heartthrob into an unambiguously odious villain. And I am into it.

Combine Stranger Issues with It, toss in your favourite serial killer miniseries and add a splash of bitters to mood the nostalgia, and you have The Black Cellphone. If you happen to nonetheless have not seen this little gem of a mid-budget style movie — sure, you — it’s best to.

Hawke performs fictional ’70s serial killer The Grabber, a “part-time magician” who by no means leaves house with out his trusty bundle of pitch black balloons and might of aerosol chloroform. And he usually returns house with a kidnapped pre-teen boy to lock in his homicide basement – however not earlier than donning certainly one of his grotesque horned masks. (Whereas the likes of Ted Bundy and even Richard Ramirez have impressed inexplicable lusty fandoms, I assure The Grabber’s masks will rob you of your crush on Ethan Hawke, at the least for the movie’s 103-minute run time.)

The protagonist of the movie, mercifully not the serial killer at its middle, is Finney Blake (Mason Thames), a younger teen who lives along with his alcoholic father (Jeremy Davies) and smart-mouthed little sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) within the blue collar, perpetual stick season Denver suburbs of the late ’70s. The adults listed below are absentee at greatest, abusive at worst. And the youngsters bloody one another’s noses as a lot out of rage as to claw their method up a fragile, lawless hierarchy. It is a bully or be bullied world, marbled with child-led anarchy. On high of all that, boys from the city hold turning up lacking, and Gwen’s begun having psychic visions about them. 

When Finney himself is kidnapped, he wakes up on a grimy mattress in The Grabber’s soundproof basement, with nothing however the inoperable, titular landline as firm. And, regardless of its lack of a dial tone, the cellphone begins ringing anyway. Of course

A little boy holds a black phone to his ear in a dark room

The movie boasts some spectacular horror bona fides: Its supply materials is a brief story written by Joe Hill (ya know, the son of Stephen King?), and its adaptation reunites Hawke with writers C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson for the primary time since 2012’s Sinister (ya know, the scientifically confirmed scariest film of all time?) If I might identified about this lineage, I admittedly would have been too afraid to observe it. However that is the place The Black Cellphone shines: It is not really all that scary. 

I imply this as a praise, not a critique. Somewhat than luxuriate in express sadism for its personal sake, the film as a substitute stokes the stranger hazard panic of yesteryear that is by no means fairly gone away. I might name The Black Cellphone creepy, gritty — suspenseful, certain. And yeah, it is tremendous darkish. However its bounce scares are manageable (dare I say, perfunctory?) and its violence, at the least by the hands of The Grabber, is basically off digicam. Finney’s confines? Extra escape room than torture chamber. 

The movie is about in 1978, which falls inside what’s been coined the “golden age of serial murder,” when, in response to crime historians, the overwhelming majority of serial killers (that folks learn about) have been lively. 

The current period, subsequently, may very well be thought of the golden age of serial killer IP: The serial killer cinematic universe is increasing quickly, as streaming platforms money in on the true crime podcast craze with docuseries and “impressed by” scripted exhibits with built-in audiences. (After the success of Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, for example, Netflix announced two more seasons to delve into “different infamous figures who left their mark on society.”) However what I like about The Black Cellphone — the identical factor I preferred about true crime spoof American Vandal — is that it is not primarily based on a real story. 

Ethan Hawke in a top hat and face paint

Common Photos

Yay for unique storytelling! Yay for standalone films! Yay for indulging the sick fancies of our ids over a bucket of buttery popcorn with out the exploitation-of-innocent-victims-for-“content material” hangover!

So who’s on the opposite finish of the black cellphone’s line? Properly, it seems Finney has a contact of his sister’s supernatural something-or-other, and it is the deceased former victims of The Grabber calling. The movie performs up the creep-factor of those cellphone conversations, presumably as a result of the take a look at viewers wasn’t scared sufficient, however the ghosts are literally extra hype-man than haunting: Every previously kidnapped boy has a tip for Finney about tips on how to escape The Grabber’s clutches. 

What follows is a Mulan-style let’s-get-down-to-business second act whereby I assure you may cheer for Finney the way in which you cheer for a darkish horse sports activities staff with a W in surprising attain. 

If you happen to’re a serial killer junkie, a King completist, a Stranger Issues superfan — otherwise you simply miss watching kids conquer the Aggro Crag — do your self a favor and provides The Black Cellphone a watch. Come for the thrills and chills, however keep for the extremely immersive throwback vibes. Or: come for the shirtless Hawke and, when that begins to really feel a bit bizarre, keep for the surprisingly uplifting underdog story and the delightfully satisfying decision.