Finney and his sister see their comrades disappear one after the other, carried away by a mysterious individual nicknamed “The Grabber”. Then comes the turn of the young boy, who wakes up in the middle of a basement of the worst taste. The height of morbid irony, he quickly spots a telephone on the wall… which doesn’t work. Well not officially.
A story co-written by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill and originally imagined by Joe Hill in his short story The black phonepublished in the mid-2000s in the collection 20th Century Ghosts (Ghosts – Troubled Stories). Like his father, the illustrious Stephen King, the writer is now very familiar with the big and small screen. In addition to series NOS4A2 and Locke & Keyhis work has been adapted to the cinema in Horns by Alexandre Aja and In the tall grass by Vincenzo Natali. Adaptations at worst forgettable, at best entertaining and generally very modest. Black Phone is no exception.
Those who were expecting a great horror film in the tradition of Sinister are therefore likely to be disappointed. Black Phone in vain to reappropriate, or even improve the main lines of the 2012 film, it turns out to be much less generous (and much less virtuoso) in terms of thrills, the fault precisely with its statute. The links between the two feature films are numerous: the characters prisoners of a family shackles unable to free themselves from the past evolve in an almost dilapidated environment, the film shots are skilfully incorporated into the story and the main set is full of these famous great decrepit walls. Despite everything, nothing rises to the level of the nightmarish climax of Sinister.
Happy to compose with original material that meets his own narrative desires, in particular through references to thrillers and a violent father character more nuanced than the average, Derrickson leaves apparent the strings of adaptation. From the very principle of the feature film, relatively mechanical, to several plot motifs and junction points (the blow of the anti-theft lock), many elements betray their literary nature and prove to be much less convincing on the visual level, a fortiori when the filmmaker forces himself to insert a few generic jump scares to conform the whole thing to the specifications of Hollywood horror.
Whether he sticks to Joe Hill’s minimalist narrative or fleshes it out to better diversify his directing effects, he seems to be struggling a bit with his adaptationat least when he locks himself in the cellar where poor Finney is being held prisoner.
Phone not all pink
On the other hand, when he is interested in the hunt for the psychopath led by the courageous Gwen, he reveals his main quality, that is to say his darkness. Like a Summer of 84, Black Phone intends to counterbalance the myth of the Amblin childhood vaunted by Stranger Things and consorts and let a suffocating atmosphere emerge, which we now see quite rarely in this kind of stories. Not only is the daily life of our young heroes, tossed between domestic violence and violence in the school environment, nothing glamorous, but the pedophilia of the catcher is more than implied.
All in the middle of a marginalized rural America, where solidarity is fragile and where communities hide behind their windows, the absolute antithesis of the funky 70s that cinema likes to depict. It is in the heart of this stricken town that the director is most comfortable with his camera.. The choice of scope, a priori rather curious for a feature film of this caliber, takes on its full meaning thanks to the alternate editing. In the cellar, it makes it possible to create empty spaces in which the Seeker is just waiting to interfere. On the surface, it contributes to the description of an arid city, made up of sad individual houses with horizontal architecture. A desert where these two poor kids get lost.
Some will regret the absence of camera, but it must be admitted that it is good when he reveals that the ambient perfidy is not limited to the basement of the antagonist that Black Phone is the most interesting… and the scariest.
Finally, he owes a good part of his scare capital to Ethan Hawkewho leaves behind his roles as combative patriarchs (which he also interpreted in Sinister) to slip into the shoes of the famous Seeker. His face hidden by different masks, he sows unease solely by virtue of his half-sweet, half-angry intonations and his impressive physical presence.
The actor, decked out with an intimidating musculature since the physical preparation of The Northman, seizes an initially obese character to give him an absolutely terrifying aura which unfolds particularly during the few sequences – the most successful – where he sits without doing anything. A fairly risky bet won hands down, which proves that despite its flaws, Black Phone enough to cool the most air-conditioned rooms this summer.