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[Fantastic Fest ’21] ‘The Black Phone’ review: Well written horror with memorable characters

Ethan Hawke is amazing.

The Black Phone tackles an incredibly frightening subject. Based on a short story by Joe Hill, the film is about a neighborhood in Colorado that has been paralyzed by a rash of kidnappings. When Finney (Mason Thames) becomes the next victim, he is left in a basement with a disconnected telephone. Everything seems hopeless…until the phone starts ringing.

Horror that choose to dabble in real life situations can be incredibly effective when done right. The problem is many times genuine problems are undermined by supernatural explanations or armchair psychology. The Black Phone is a terrifying premise – a kidnapped boy receives phone calls from previous victims – but there is also the initial worry that the unexplained aspects will take center stage.

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That is never the case with the movie. It melds different types of scare tactics without ever making one seem more important. Before Finney is kidnapped, The Black Phone builds its world. Set in 1978, the film is from a time that will seem strange to many. It is a violent era where bullying is done in person and problems are solved with fists. This is just an accepted part of everyone’s lives.

[Fantastic Fest '21] 'The Black Phone' review: Well written horror with memorable characters

The amount of violence against children will shock many. The fights between the kids are absolutely brutal and punches are not pulled – no matter the gender. Even harder to watch, are the graphic scenes involving adults. While it is difficult to see, it further develops the setting of The Black Phone. Making it all easier to accept is nothing ever seems gratuitous. The idea of a brutal world where anyone can be physically hurt by anyone else is reiterated.

This helps to make things more palatable when the titular phone is introduced. Many movies bring in otherworldly aspects then have to shoehorn in an explanation. The Black Phone does such an excellent job of immersion that when stranger things are introduced they are just part of the story. It never becomes a question of why it is happening since the plot is so intriguing.

The thriller aspects are well written.

The thriller aspect of The Black Phone is well written. There are some missteps (Finney manages to get a lot done without being noticed), but they never ruin the enjoyment. There are a number of edge of your seat moments. The film also includes some great jump scares. They are spaced out perfectly and never fail to work. One of the best compliments this movie can be paid is that it can be very difficult to watch.

Ultimately, everything comes together to make a great film. The thriller portions are powerful while the horror is expertly done. The entire cast gives magnificent performances and the end will give those watching an emotional discharge. It is rare to see a scary movie that takes on this much succeed, but The Black Phone does it.

Fantastic Fest takes place from September 23 – September 30. Check out AIPT’s ongoing coverage.

The Black Phone comes to theaters January 22, 2022.

the black phone
[Fantastic Fest ’21] ‘The Black Phone’ review: Well written horror with memorable characters
The Black Phone
An excellent mix of real and supernatural horror that comes together in a well done thriller. Great performances and storytelling.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Great performances from Ethan Hawke, Thames, and Madeleine McGraw
Genuinely scary
Finney does a lot while in captivity without being noticed

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