The movie The Black Phone by Scott Derrickson, formally belongs to the horror genre. But it is much more than a horror story. Also, it could be said that it links with suspense. But also, it overflows its usual codes.
Between both things, the film is a story that navigates in the darkness of murders, ghosts and an urgent desire for revenge. However, the script by Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill and author Joe Hill, has more ambitions than to scare or inconvenience. In fact, what he wants is to create a snapshot of the core in which darkness and the unknown converge. Also, the perception of fear as something more than a reaction.
The Black Phone it is built to narrate the perceptions of good and evil from the darkness of men. At once, narrate in a neat way the condition of the terrifying, halfway between fantasy and the realistic brutality of the murder. If there is something surprising about the film, it is the ductile ability to advance between uneven terrain and find a balance.
It is the story of Grabber, a terrifying serial killer (Ethan Hawke), but at the same time, it is the story about his victims. As if that weren’t enough, the compulsion for revenge takes a motor sense into something darker. Derrickson takes Joe Hill’s original story and turns it into pure darkness. Also, in questions about uncertainty, absence and loss. But above all, the violence. A stark, unusual and manifested from different perceptions.
In The Black Phone, terror is expressed in various layers and degrees of depth. And that is his main strength. From Hawke’s Grabber, with its weird mask, black globes and sense of menace, to the titular black phone. The film bounces back and forth in a tricky plot where nothing is what it seems. It might as well just seem like a chilling connection between the supernatural and brutal violence. But the script is cleverer than that and invades novel spaces with ease. So, the premise of the serial killer, who will have to face the unimaginable, is surprising for his good work. Especially when it widens and embraces with ambition, the conscious look at what contemporary fear can be.
‘The Black Phone’, when fear is a piece in a great mechanism
Derrickson’s film moves away from the usual clichés about the horror genre as a setting for the unimaginable. And although at a certain point it pays tribute to a long selection of careful references to the bloodiest cinema, it is more than that. The camera follows Grabber, a murderer who kidnaps teenagers and tells his story from the conscience of what he does and does not show. This ruthless predator has a method, a signature and keeps trophies. And also, there is a possibility that Grabber, for all his violent arrogance, could never contemplate. It is that point that the director explores and that the script makes the most of.
Especially, because Derrickson finds the essential point in this narrative with a plot that manages several narrative threads at the same time. That of conceiving the paranormal and the bloody as a single whole that is sustained by a firm history. In the Denver of 1978, the horror manifests itself as murders. A wave of them, actually, that the film uses as context. Of course, the dark culture surrounding violent murders allows the director to provide a compelling atmosphere. It is the same country that saw Ted Bundy assassinated, Sam Berkovich and was terrified by Zodiac. The same one who watched in amazement at the details of brutal crimes on television.
One of the many points in favor of The Black Phone, is to use the atmosphere of fear and collective anguish, to create a precise scenario. One that the director recreates through long contemplative shots and the incessant feeling that evil is lurking. He does, too, by endowing Finney (Mason Thames), the scapegoat for a heartless criminal, as a gateway to something more unsettling. The entire structure of the film works on its ability to dialogue with the terrifying spaces. Grabber’s method and his domain, made up of a basement primed for crime. And Finney’s struggle to survive. For facing Grabber and the possibility of what he will suffer at his hands. Also, from the darkness lurking in the very center of darkness.
The closed doors in ‘The Black Phone’
that’s when The Black PhoneFind your best moments. Grabber will have to face an unexpected element. That he will test his fierceness, violence and cruelty. But at the same time, he will show that within every horror story, there are intangible monsters, much worse than the visible ones. Derrickson takes the best moments from the premise of Hill’s story and composes a brutal conception of overwhelm, survival and in the end, evil. One twisted, poisonous and about to wipe out all the characters in the film.
Of course, the old black telephone on the basement wall is the central focus of the film’s supernatural play. But Derrickson does not fall into the trap of creating the perception that it is the most important and therefore indispensable element. The Black Phone is much more than ads of a deep and psychological type of horror. It is the world that generates, through its nuances and what is most disturbing, the dark beauty that results from the combination. Perhaps his greatest merit.