After director Scott Derrickson and writer C. Robert Cargill’s dalliance with Marvel blockbusters on 2016’s “Doctor Strange” and their ultimately scrapped collaboration on the recently released sequel, perhaps some type of creative reset was in order. necessary to bring storytellers back to what they do best. “The Black Phone” works perfectly as a back-to-basics palate cleanser, wielding a small but impressively effective cast, a bare minimum of locations (much of the film takes place in a stuffy little basement) and a playful juggling of tones that keep the story light on its feet.
Mason Thames is terrific as Finney, the lovable tween hero who’s an easy target for bullies at school, but harbors a fierce and protective love for his younger sister Gwen (equally equal Madeleine McGraw). task). Based on the short story by Joe Hill, “The Black Phone” takes its time to establish our protagonist, the almost folksy hold that the sinister The Grabber (a ruthless Ethan Hawke) has over the small Colorado town, and why we should be invested in Finney’s eventual situation. Gwen’s insight into The Grabber’s past victims, Finney’s friends (and foes) who eventually go missing, and the eponymous black phone itself add personality to this seemingly straightforward thriller.
But more than anything else, Derrickson and Cargill know exactly when to hold back. The eponymous Black Phone connects Finney to the long-deceased victims of The Grabber, all of whom are eager to help him escape…but we never know exactly how it happens. The Grabber himself provides plenty of clues to his backstory and motivations (an alliance, his ways, and his frequently changing mask), but the storyline wisely avoids any mystical exposition. Simply put, “The Black Phone” makes you want more in the best way.