Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, James Ransone, Ethan Hawke
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins
Rating: NC16 (Coarse Language and Some Violence)
Released By: UIP
Opening Day: 21 July 2022
Synopsis: Director Scott Derrickson returns to his terror roots and partners again with the foremost brand in the genre, Blumhouse, with a new horror thriller. Finney Shaw, a shy but clever 13-year-old boy, is abducted by a sadistic killer and trapped in a soundproof basement where screaming is of little use. When a disconnected phone on the wall begins to ring, Finney discovers that he can hear the voices of the killer's previous victims. And they are dead set on making sure that what happened to them doesn't happen to Finney.
We look at Ethan Hawke and we are truly impressed with how far he has come. The 51 year old actor was quite the heartthrob in his younger days, appearing in Dead Poets Society (1989), Reality Bites (1994) and Gattaca (1997), playing characters that will make young girls swoon. Then came the Before trilogy directed by Richard Linklater, where the American actor portrayed a man in three very different stages of life in Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013), opposite Julie Delpy. It was an embodiment of what every guy yearns to be – a good looking idealist who ages like fine wine into a mature middle aged romantic. To top it off, he has been nominated for various awards, directed feature films and plays, appeared in theatre productions, authored novels and a graphic novel.
Then Hawke joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a baddie in Moon Knight, became a Viking king in The Northman (2022) where the character took psychedelic drugs for a royal initiation ceremony, and took on the role of a serial child abductor in Scott Derrickson’s horror flick. And he does a good job as a really scary psychopath that will make kids cry.
Based on a 2004 short story of the same name by Joe Hill, the thriller takes place in 1978, where a kidnapper nicknamed The Grabber (Hawke, whose limited screen time has extra impact a scary mask because of his creepy horned mask) has been prowling the streets to capture kids when they least expect it. Enter Finney (Mason Thames), the protagonist of the movie, a boy who is often bullied in school. He and his psychic sister live in the suburb with their abusive and alcoholic (but of course) father, and the siblings have seen better days when their mother was alive.
Finney soon becomes a victim and is trapped in The Grabber’s basement, where he begins to hear the voices of the other kids who were abducted and sadistically killed by the mad man. The movie then sees Finney communicating with them through the titular black phone and figuring out how he can survive this terrible ordeal.
The movie is as straightforward as it gets. There are no clever twists and complicated storylines. There is no reason for The Grabber’s cruelty, and he has no sad backstory to tell. When we first see him, he is a menace that you won’t want to meet in your dreams. One scene where he sits on a chair, silent and shirtless, is especially unsettling because you have no idea how brutal he is going to be – he doesn’t seem to have any qualms chopping up kids into pieces for no particular reason. And this says a lot about Hawke’s acting as he delivers an impressive performance with his eyes and intimidatingly frightening body movements.
This is also a supernatural movie, with a large part of the film where Finney talks to the dead boys. Understandably, he is startled and confused at first, and it is nice to see his emotions turning to anger and determination as the story progresses. There are some funny moments to lighten the mood. Thames does a fine job portraying a good natured and timid young boy who picks up confidence due to the circumstance he is in.
Running at 102 minutes, the movie is a thrill to sit through, right up to the finale where you’d be at the edge of your seat, rooting for Finney to make it out of the dark basement alive.
(Ethan Hawke is gleefully intimidating and menacing in this solid supernatural horror flick)
Review by John Li