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Be careful who you speak to: 'The Black Phone' review

Kristofer Purnell - Philstar.com
Be careful who you speak to: 'The Black Phone' review
Ethan Hawke and Mason Thames in "The Black Phone"
Universal Pictures

TAGAYTAY, Philippines — Director Scott Derrickson returns to his horror roots with "The Black Phone," starring Ethan Hawke as a mysterious kidnapper whose motives are as terrifying as the broken mask he wears.

First premiering at the 2021 Fantastic Fest, "The Black Phone" sees Mason Thames' Finney become the latest victim of Hawke's character known only as the Grabber and must keep his wits about him if he wishes to survive, especially with a mysterious broken phone ringing all the time near him.

On paper, "The Black Phone" has the perfect recipe for a horror movie — it is based on the short story by Stephen King's son Joe Hill and Derrickson's horror origins trace back to "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," "Deliver Us From Evil," and "Sinister," the latter also starring Hawke.

Behind the camera, Derrickson also reunites with "Sinister" co-writer C. Robert Cargill and has the backing of triumphant horror film producer Jason Blum.

This is the film where Derrickson poured his whole focus into after leaving "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" with fellow horror director Sam Raimi, which turned out well for both filmmakers as Raimi showed just how iconic he remains in the genre while Derrickson returned to the basics.

Related: Horrific madness: 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness' review

"The Black Phone" is quite faithful to the original material, with Derrickson and Cargill adding enough aspects for it to become feature-worthy; on that front alone, the film deserves praise, simple as it may appear yet frightful when it needs to be.

In terms of performances, film enthusiasts will need to adjust to seeing Hawke as a villain — a role he is not known for portraying, unless you count his recent Marvel stint in "Moon Knight" — yet all the same, he knew the assignment and delivered, from the subtle eye movements and breathing to the chilling laughter and responses.

Believe it or not, Hawke is outshined by two child actors here, Thames and Madeleine McGraw (who plays Finney's sister Gwen). Both perform with maturity beyond their years, particularly McGraw in her expanded role, while Thames mirrors the short story's Finney so well he gives him more depth.

Viewers should not be expecting "Sinister" levels of terror, as Derrickson is finding his footing once again in horror. "The Black Phone" is a start by keeping to the basics beyond the typical jumpscares and questionable loopholes.

"The Black Phone" excels because of its simplicity, though not everyone may find that enjoyable, but if the thought of dead children speaking through a kidnapper's broken phone does not put a chill in one's bones, then one must be looking for true horror elsewhere.

"The Black Phone" opens in Philippine theaters beginning July 20.

RELATED: Riveting horror of ‘The Black Phone’ set to ring in Philippine cinemas this July

ETHAN HAWKE

HORROR

SCOTT DERRICKSON

STEPHEN KING

THRILLER

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