Plot: What’s it about?
When it comes to horror, sometimes less is more. I can’t think of this personified more than in the movie Jaws. Granted, their approach had a lot to do with a dysfunctional shark, but hey – I think everything worked out OK for them and the film. My point being, that’s what a good horror movie is. It doesn’t have to have monsters, possessions or anything like that. Let’s face it, people are the scariest beings out there, right? Ethan Hawke has been acting since the mid 80’s and he’s encompasses nearly every genre of film out there. He’s done a lot more independent work than most other actors, but he’s good at what he does and I consider him to be one of my favorite working actors. It’s been a while since his last horror film, The Purge so nearly a decade later we’re treated to another – this time he’s not the good guy.
The film takes place in the 1970’s and the story revolves around Finney (Mason Thames), a bullied teenager who lives with his sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) and their alcoholic dad, Terrence (Jeremy Davies). Their town has been subject to several local kids being abducted by “The Grabber” (Ethan Hawke). This creates an odd sense in the town. Finney unknowingly crosses paths with the Grabber, he’s adducted and thrown into the back of a van. Finney finds himself in a soundproof basement when a disconnected phone begins to ring. Meanwhile Gwen begins to have dreams about her brother which may or may not lead to his discovery.
The Black Phone isn’t totally original, but I like the approach they came up with. It’s eerie without being too over the top. It creates a sense of uncertainty which heightens the experience and makes it that much more enjoyable to watch. The film also throws us a few curve balls – just when we think we know what might happen, something comes up. I was also impressed with the performance of Mason Thomas – he shows great promise as an actor and he owns the part of the troubled, bullied victim to a tee. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Scott Derrickson’s direction which is another key component in the film’s success. Derrickson, best-known for his work in Doctor Strange is certainly no newcomer to the horror genre. He’s got a few under his belt. The Black Phone is a taut, well-written and acted horror film. If you’re looking for something that fits this bill – look no further.
Video: How’s it look?
There are two reasons to upgrade to this 4K edition. The 4K presentation is one of them. Maybe I’ve got a thing for 70’s fashion style or…I don’t know. At any rate, this film is dark. Both physically and the nature of the plot. That’s fine. Dark films have a very looming presence around them and I’ve found that these pull it off very nicely. The Black Phone has a certain “vintage” look to it and I was duly impressed at how spot-on amazing its visual appearance is. I wasn’t able to find a single artifact, strong black levels were present, consistent flesh tones and even minute details were impressive. All the usual boxes are checked with razor sharp detail, strong colors and contrast. While it’s an improvement over the Blu-ray, I wouldn’t say that it’s anything that’s a night and day difference. Nevertheless,well done.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Assuming you read the video portion first, this is the second “reason” to upgrade. The DTS HD Master Audio mix on the Blu-ray has been replaced by a Dolby Atmos mix. What we do have is a very atmospheric, encompassing mix that’s sure to please even the most finicky audiophile. Vocals are strong and clear, the front stage has the lion’s share of the work, but handles it with relative ease. I’ll freely admit that I didn’t do an A/B comparison with these two, but we’ll just go on the assumption that the Atmos mix takes the blue ribbon of the two. No complaints here, from me, in the audio department.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Nothing new has been added, just the same supplements from the Blu-ray.
- Deleted Scenes
- Is This America Now?
- No Dreams
- Audio Commentary – This solo track by writer/director Scott Derrickson is pretty good. It’s filled with facts about the shoot, the cast and the writing. Fans of the film will enjoy this.
- Ethan Hawke’s Evil Turn – Dive deeper into the character of The Grabber and how Ethan Hawke was able to transform into this unnerving villain.
- Answering the Call: Behind the Scenes of The Black Phone – Take a behind-the-scenes look into the most pivotal elements of the production, including adapting the story and achieving the vision of director Scott Derrickson.
- Devil in the Design – Explore how the intricacies of production design helped bring this film to life, from the set design, to costumes, to hair and makeup.
- Super 8 Set – Cast and crew break down the decision to shoot the dream sequences on Super 8 film, and how that helped capture the aesthetic of the time period.
- Shadowprowler – A short film by Scott Derrickson
The Bottom Line
Studios have figured out that if you can sell something to someone once – why not twice? I suspect that the ploy is to put out a Blu-ray and if the numbers look good enough, they’ll add a 4K version with upgraded audio for fools customers to buy again. The movie was not only praised critically, but commercially as well The Black Phone was a joy to watch. It’s a bit of a departure for Ethan Hawke, but he’s got little left to prove when it comes to his talent as an actor. Universal’s disc looks and sounds the part and there are enough extras to warrant a purchase.