Black Phone, review of the cryptic horror with Ethan Hawke

Black Phone, review of the cryptic horror with Ethan Hawke

Black Phone

From 23 June the Italian cinemas were filled with horror maniacs thanks to Black Phone, a new film by Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions, directed by Scott Derrickson. Attention is immediately drawn to the cast that includes the presence of Ethan Hawke, recently struggling with Moon Knight, whom we have already seen in collaboration with the director as Ellison Oswalt in Sinister (2012).

The film is based on the horror novel of the same name by Joe Hill (father of Locke & Key), published in 2004; a family vice, given that the author, under a pseudonym, is the son of Stephen King. Black Phone may seem like a simple story about a mysterious killer. The film actually tries to go further, but hides a long series of doubts and questions to which, apparently, there is no single real answer.

Black Phone is an enjoyable film ?

In 1970s America, Finney and Gwen Shaw (Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw), motherless and with a violent, alcohol-dependent father, live their pre-adolescence between the oppressive home and the school where bullying is the order of the day. For some time now, a mysterious figure, called Rapace, has been wandering the streets of the city kidnapping male boys, of whom there is never a trace. The police have nothing to follow a real lead, except for the mysterious dreams of little Gwen, which all the agents find hard to believe despite the disturbing coincidences. When Finney is also kidnapped by the mysterious man, what appears to be an impossible escape begins, but something unimaginable is about to happen.

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Finney's point of view

In spite of this which seems from the official trailer, the real protagonist is not the mysterious Raptor. During the narration, the points of view change little, they move from Gwen to Finney in an almost alternating way. The character of Ethan Hawke, who seemed central before the vision, is a rather inaccessible antagonist, almost always seen with the eyes of the boy. The two young personalities are well defined: brother and sister caring for each other, they strengthen each other. He, more insecure and awkward, is often helped by his friends, involved in fights against bullies. Finney does not lose heart and always gets up, one shot at a time. Gwen, on the other hand, lives with her cryptic visions, proving that she is ready for anything to try to find her brother.

When Finney wakes up in a soundproof basement, with only a wired telephone on the wall broken, Black Phone begins to play with the viewer. In that empty room we witness particular scenes that follow a precise narrative, with a rather schematic order of events. Somehow, something suggests to Finney what to do, and he slowly follows these tips, solving small puzzles and sharpening his wits and spirit of observation. "Who or what gives the hints?" is perhaps not the right question. It is more appropriate to ask yourself "Is there really something or someone helping the protagonist?" . In this case, Finney's point of view is the only one, and this long escape attempt involves him personally. Everything that happens in those four walls is shown through his senses, especially sight and hearing.

Black Phone: more thriller than horror

Some fleeting words of Hawke's character about the strange phone without power point more to think of a suggestion given by the isolation and from the scarcity of food and water, compared to incomprehensible events by the simple human mind. Are we sure? Not really. Surreal elements are, first of all, Gwen's premonitory dreams, around which not many doubts revolve. So is it possible that there are others in the story? There is no real answer, precisely because we don't have many points of view. The film is likely to show something both to peddle it as such, and to whet the imagination in search of a deeper, more stimulating substrate for those unwilling to settle for the more obvious and less intricate version.

Black Phone it's a good thriller, but maybe not the horror he hoped to appear. This is also evident from the scarce amount of scary moments, with the exception of some jumpscare who, again, do everything they can to bring a work of horror to the screen, but in an almost decontextualized way. It is evident that the focus is much more on tension than on fear.

Who is the Raptor?

There is no answer to the question that arises about the identity of the Raptor, or one could be found one thousand. Black Phone has an irreparable flaw. Ethan Hawke, an amazing personality, in this film does not blossom as he expected. His character has a very particular physical characterization: he wanders in the guise of an illusionist, and it is with fake magic numbers that he kidnaps the kids of the city, throwing them into his disturbing van and leaving black balloons in place.

From a personality like Hawke's and from a figure so well presented, one expects a big step more than in Black Phone never comes. What could really be the most interesting character almost never plays a preponderant role, except in very rare moments when, finally, we don't see the story only through Finney's eyes. Little or nothing is known about the Rapace: who is he? What's his name? Why does he kidnap the young males of the city? The screenplay, written by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, leaves from time to time some almost imperceptible clues.

It is known right away that he too can hear the ringing of the telephone, or rather he could. . Plus, he only catches guys. One would think that it is the mad and vengeful act of a horrible pre-adolescence spent in the same basement. Could Finney's family situation be some kind of parallelism? The work causes the viewer to worry about it, depriving the Raptor of a more defined psychological characterization, an element that should be fundamental, especially for an antagonist.

Black Phone and its free interpretation

If on the one hand Black Phone is capable of making people talk about itself and stimulating a long series of hypotheses born from cryptic and almost intangible clues, on the other hand even free interpretation has a limit. It is difficult to accept that the Raptor is reduced, more often than not, to an almost marginal, passing character who is barely seen. The small hints of a background, together with the mystery that hovers on his face and his identity, are certainly not sufficient to characterize this figure, on the contrary they annoy the viewer who would like to know much more, without necessarily having to invent a story in order to be able to rest. .

Scott Derrickson's footprint

While not even remotely approaching the kind of horror cinema that the director has accustomed his audience to, his directing style is clearly visible from the very beginning. first few minutes. Long opening credits, in which short scenes are juxtaposed in an apparently unconnected way, are made in such a way that they look like the fruit of old filigree films. The realization through fast and blurry shots is very reminiscent of the stylistic choices of Sinister, a pillar of the horror genre, as well as some similar interludes within the usual narrative. An example are Gwen's dreams, a bit as if these dream images were intricately projected into her mind.

The simulation of the old films reminds us, after all, that we are in the 70s. An advantage of Black Phone is certainly that of being able to perfectly convey that era, with skilful work on the costumes and sets, and an accurate props design, visible thanks to the inserts, that is, the shots focused on details. Photography is more sought after on these occasions than in the rest of the feature film, with images that tell the story in a rather linear way. The premonitory dreams are perhaps the only real moments in which greater charm is tangible, with a discontinuous narrative, and juxtaposed images that convey an almost hallucinatory atmosphere.

In conclusion

Black Phone it is a rather enjoyable work. The story is palatable, with a structure that does not satisfy, however, and that always leaves us hoping for something profound that the film itself tries to conceal. Derrickson asks the viewer to actively participate in finding the links and secrets that hide behind what is visible and tangible, but perhaps this work costs too much. In some ways, Black Phone seems to turn into a lazy work, which confuses the free imagination of the public with the lack of essential presuppositions, useful to better frame the background but above all the identity of a character like the one played Ethan Hawke.

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