The place do you go if you’re misplaced? In the event you can, you discover a means dwelling. In some ways, that is the trail that filmmaker Scott Derrickson has chosen. After exiting Marvel’s Physician Unusual In The Multiverse Of Insanity (probably by way of a glowing orange portal) throughout pre-production, having efficiently launched the character on display in 2016’s Physician Unusual, the director now finds himself again in, effectively, Sinister territory with this, his horror comeback. There’s ultra-dark subject material. Ethan Hawke in a serious function. Common co-writer C. Robert Cargill again on scripting duties. Jason Blum as producer. Scott Derrickson is dwelling once more.
Following his foray into multi-million-dollar blockbuster territory, The Black Cellphone shouldn’t be a lot a step again for the director as it’s a movie about trying again — at what dwelling actually is; at Derrickson’s personal upbringing; on the forces (and friendships) that forge us into who we’re. The best prism by way of which to discover these concepts is Joe Hill’s brief story, taken from his 2005 twentieth Century Ghosts assortment, leading to an adaptation whose bleak premise and private demons coalesce right into a surprisingly heat, hopeful, and — sure — scary movie.
Derrickson has spoken a lot about his personal childhood in relation to The Black Cellphone, having grown up in a scuzzy ’70s Denver neighbourhood suffused with violence. It was a time not simply of bodily parental self-discipline and bloody, kid-on-kid yard beat-ups, however one through which the spectre of Ted Bundy (who dedicated a number of murders in Colorado at the moment) loomed massive. All of those forces swirl round The Black Cellphone’s central determine of Finney, excellently performed by Mason Thames in his big-screen debut. He’s an almost-teen rising up in scuzzy ’70s Denver, the place his alcoholic father often brandishes his belt as a whipping instrument, bullies wait spherical quiet corners to ambush him, and the native city legend of child-catcher ‘The Grabber’ provides an ever-present menace of abduction. Even earlier than he’s held captive in The Grabber’s basement, Finney lives within the shadow of hazard.
Derrickson’s movie spends an inexpensive period of time within the exterior world earlier than trapping its central character in stark, concrete partitions — evoking the time and place with a Linklaterian capability to show reminiscences into film scenes. ’70s rock kilos on the soundtrack (The Edgar Winter Group’s ‘Free Journey’ can’t assist however evoke Dazed And Confused), bottle rockets soar, and youngsters brag in toilet stalls about seeing The Texas Chain Noticed Bloodbath. All of it feels fondly remembered — however that heat sits side-by-side with the ever-present menace of bodily and emotional torment, and tales of boys vanishing with black balloons left on the scene. Derrickson evokes each the nostalgia and the nastiness with ability, neither one negating the opposite.
Hawke turns into one with The Grabber’s masks, completely moulded to his facial contours. It’s onerous to look away.
As soon as The Grabber bundles Finney into his black van, the movie dials in on its central conceit: that the killer’s former victims can communicate to the boy from past the grave by way of a disconnected landline connected to the basement wall. It’s right here that The Black Cellphone performs just like the darkest attainable iteration of an Amblin film (sure, darker than IT), as youngster ghosts name as much as assist Finney escape an analogous destiny. Hawke, in a uncommon villain function (albeit his second this 12 months, post-Moon Knight), offers a daunting and interesting bodily efficiency — since his face is masked for nearly all the film, it’s his presence (generally dominant, generally playful, at all times creepy) and vocal work that almost all impresses. He swaps out the higher and decrease parts of his devil-horned masks like some fucked-up psychological train — donning frowns that really feel extra like snarls, or malice-dripping Man Who Laughs grins. Generally, he exposes his eyes or mouth totally. Hawke turns into one with these masks, completely moulded to his facial contours. It’s onerous to look away.
The Black Cellphone’s efficient jolts and jump-scares ought to quell summer season crowds searching for a straight-up scarefest, but it surely’s the dread that’s most palpable — the spectre of ready for repercussive violence, whether or not in Finney’s makes an attempt to flee The Grabber’s basement, or when anticipating his father’s wrath. And the salvation from all that is companionship; from the lingering ghosts of fellow children, or Finney’s psychic sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw, additionally glorious), who goals in Tremendous 8 and delivers maybe the best cinematic prayer of 2022: “Jesus: What the fuck?!”
Whereas there are occasional tonal missteps — James Ransone’s transient supporting character Max, conducting his personal Grabber investigation, feels misplaced — The Black Cellphone manages to be a mainstream style film that additionally feels deeply private and impassioned. It’s horror, delivered with appreciable coronary heart. Welcome dwelling, Scott.