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Movie review: 'The Black Phone' a satisfying slice of dread-inducing terror

Mark Meszoros, The News-Herald (Willoughby, Ohio) on

Published in Entertainment News

Not the way they hope to, she answers.

Her opinion on this matters because she is experiencing dreams that seemingly offer visions of The Grabber. Talk of these dreams infuriates her alcoholic, sometimes-abusive father (Jeremy Davies of “Justified”) — her late mother had similar gifts, and he doesn’t want that future for his daughter — but they will be paramount after Finney is taken.

In the dingy, soundproof basement of The Grabber — who wears disturbing masks when he visits the boy — is little more than a mattress, a toilet, a single, out-of-reach window and, yes, a disconnected black rotary phone.

When it rings, Finney is startled and confused, but he soon learns the phone offers a means to communicate with former residents of that terrible room — residents who may possess information that will help Finney free himself before what has happened to them happens to him.

Without having read the short story, it’s hard to know how much of the credit belongs to Hill and how much to Derrickson and Cargill, but, regardless, the screen version of the story is peppered with nice little meaningful touches. For instance — and even though the payoff feels a little forced — that we see Finney getting bullied by schoolmates early on in “The Black Phone” will prove to be important.

“The Black Phone” also benefits from its two main young cast members. Newcomer Thames is fairly compelling, while McGraw (“Ant-Man and the Wasp”) is a firecracker as Gwen, not bashful about mixing it up with her brother’s bullies — and using some very colorful language in the process — and desperate to do whatever she can to save him once the danger he faces is much more serious.

 

Aside from Hawke, the supporting cast doesn’t exactly move the needle, with the exception of James Ransone (“The Wire,” “Sinister”), who gets some laughs as the out-of-work, cocaine-using, Grabber-obsessed Max.

“The Black Phone” is a return to horror for Derrickson, whose credits also include 2005’s “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and 2014’s “Deliver Us From Evil.”

He had been set to direct the sequel to “Doctor Strange,” but, reportedly, creative differences with Marvel Studios led to him leaving the movie that became this year’s uneven “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and freed him up to make “The Black Phone.”

One movie’s loss is another’s gain.

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