Ethan Hawke is no stranger to horror, having fronted movies such as The Purge and Sinister. Now the actor’s latest, The Black Phone, is being hailed as his best genre flick yet.
Written by Doctor Strange duo C. Robert Gargill and Scott Derrickson, and directed by Derrickson, The Black Phone is based on Stephen King’s son Joe Hill’s short story of the same name. It centers on Finney Shaw, a 13-year-old boy who gets abducted by a sadistic killer and locked inside a soundproof basement.
At first, the youngster’s chances of escaping seem cripplingly slim. But when the disconnected phone on the wall starts ringing, and he learns that The Grabber’s murdered victims are on the line trying to help him, he realizes all hope is not lost.
Also starring Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, E. Roger Mitchell, Jeremy Davies, and IT: Chapter Two’s James Ransone, the film is being described by critics as “a terrifying tale” full of “perfectly executed jump scares”, and its glowing first reviews have earned it a 100 per cent fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Much of the praise references Hawke’s work in the movie, with IGN Movies’ Amelia Amberwing (opens in new tab) claiming that the star “gives a wholly transformative, bloodcurdling, and captivating performance in The Black Phone that is truly unlike anything we’ve ever seen from him before.”
“The supernatural horror movie The Black Phone leans more into mounting tension and haunting melancholy rather than outright scares,” says CBR’s Sam Stone (opens in new tab)as Variety’s Owen Gleiberman (opens in new tab) writes: “The Black Phone carries you along on its own terms — that is, if you accept that it’s less an ingenious freak-out of a thriller than a kind of stylized contraption.”
“It delivers an enjoyably grisly finale that makes you feel like a kid again, for better or worse,” says Moveable Fest’s Stephen Saito (opens in new tab)while Indiewire’s Marisa Mirabal (opens in new tab) gives it an A- and gushes: “A film with a bleak yet entertaining reminder that horror is omnipresent, but sometimes you can find a lifeline in the darkest of hours if you just listen.”
Awarding the movie 3 out of 5 stars, Dread Central’s Drew Tinnin (opens in new tab) says: “Hawke’s performance is fearless. But it’s Mason Thames’ nuanced turn as Finney that keeps The Black Phone grounded when the more supernatural elements come calling.”
“Derrickson and Cargill revive the same traits and structure of Sinister to transform Joe Hill’s short into a feature-length nightmare full of ghostly kids, violence, scares, and a trio of unforgettable performances,” writes Bloody Disgusting’s Meagan Navarro (opens in new tab) in her review. Elsewhere, SlashFilm’s Eric Vespe (opens in new tab) called for Hollywood to adapt more of Hill’s material.
Not everyone was super enamored with it, however. The Playlist’s Jason Bailey (opens in new tab) reckon there’s much to admire about The Black Phone but its slow-burn nature is likely to frustrate patient viewers.
While we wait for The Black Phone to reach cinemas on Wednesday, June 22, why not check out our list of the best horror movies of all time for some viewing inspiration.