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The Black Phone (Blu-ray Review)

One of summer’s most profitable movies this year has been Scott Derrickson’s return to original horror with The Black Phone. Reuniting with Ethan Hawke and C. Robert Cargill, Derrickson tells a tale of child abduction with supernatural zest set upon the late 1970s. The biggest bummer about it coming out on home video now is that its going the path of standard Blu-ray and no 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray release. Unless you’re Michael Myers, it appears Blumhouse is going to continue the straight to Blu-ray and maybe later a 4K (Get Out) release down the road a little later. This Blu-ray does come with plenty of supplemental material as well as a digital copy and that always highly coveted DVD disc. The Black Phone arrives on August 16th, and you can pre-order yourself a copy to own by using the paid Amazon Associates link below the review.

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Film

Finney (Thames), a shy but clever 13-year-old boy, is abducted by a sadistic killer (Hawke) and trapped in a soundproof basement where screaming is of little use. When a disconnected phone on the wall begins to ring, Finney discovers that he can hear the voices of the killer’s previous victims. And they are dead set on making sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen to Finney.

Scott Derrickson left the second Doctor Strange movie, which bummed some people out, but for film lovers that is kind of good news. Getting to see a creator go back to the well and come up with new original material is the most exciting thing for people who love movies. And with The Black Phone, he tapped up his frequent collaborator C. Robert Cargill and Sinister star Ethan Hawke to come with a way to scare people again. And scare people again indeed they have.

This is the kind of old folklore tale come to cinematic life in the form of of the creepy guy in the neighborhood who would kidnap kids and kill them for whatever reason. Growing up there was always this kind of child mystery bandied about. Derrickson had this based off some much more serious and true to life stuff from his youth (That of your John Wayne Gacy varities), but every town’s children had some kind of playground talk about it. And seeing it come to life in such an unapologetic fashion makes for a very juicy horror picture.

Ethan Hawke takes on “The Grabber” as they call him, and its honestly one of the most interesting roles of his career, which is not something to take lightly considering the roles and performances he’s had and those he’s worked with. Hawke challenges himself with a mask covering at least some of his face in every scene. He does a lot of cool stuff with his vocal inflections as well as his eyes and body movements with this handicap in place. And if he doesn’t work, the film would likely slide down a rung. But, luckily, he’s got it in spades.

Perhaps one of the best qualities of The Black Phone is in some of its old school methods. And I’m not referring to the time period its set, nor some of the Super 8 footage used for sequences. No, in the written portion of The Black Phone, there are some odd things and supernatural aspects that are just allowed to “be”. They work because they work, and they work because the film around it helps us to buy into them and believe them. There’s never an explanation as to the why’s or how’s and there doesn’t ever need to be. We’re in a slightly supernatural horror film. We need to take that cooky shit is gonna happen. And I love that about it. We aren’t drawn out or worn away, diluted with exposition or “reasons” or “background” story for pointless stuff that doesn’t need it.

Another great scripting focus here is the set ups and pay offs in the film. There are plenty of them, and you get to many almost “stand up in the theater and applaud” kind of moments. And one of the most fun things they do with some of the main plot is lead you astray, question whether this is at all going to work, and then again making you wonder if you’re gonna have to accept some silly Deus Ex Machina type stuff to close out. Luckily, there’s none of that, but the film does dangle and make you curious if you’re getting set up for such a thing.

The Black Phone was a heck of a great return to original horror for Scott Derrickson and one of the best movies of the summer. It may even be Derrickson’s best film overall, too. It provides everything you’d want and gives us a pretty iconic new horror villain that comes from one of the most fun performances from Ethan Hawke. Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw also provide some outstanding work to make this one tick too. Its a spooky, thrilling and fun horror film of some of the highest order.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Well, bummer no 4K, but how’s the standard Blu-ray debut of The Black Phone? Well, its pretty good. Up to par with your typical Blumhouse movie on Blu-ray. Its a crisp, sharp image with plenty of detail and good color saturation. Definitely could be improved with better resolution, but this is about as far as we go here on the older format.

Depth: Depth of field is pretty well done and spacious through its interiors. The film is mainly a pretty intimate and claustrophobic in its cinematography, though there is a good sense of space and pushback. No issues with motion distortions at all.

Black Levels: Blacks are very deep, close to natural with a slightly grayer look to them given the digital nature of the photography. It handles the darkness and shadows to great creepy effect. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are natural for its period and very 70s with browns and oranges. The colors do pop on clothes and stuff to contrast with the more dull regular colors.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from opening credits to ending ones. Facial features and texture in the digital footage is clean and clear from any reasonable distance, with the super 8 footage not being as revealing.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 7.1 DTS-HD MA, French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English Descriptive Video Service

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: The Black Phone has a pretty fun 7.1 mix that is quite playful and scratches that horror itch, indulging in a fun and room filling experience. There’s a great balance and it features nice added depth.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Some nice bump comes along with some musical stings, doors slamming, things crashing and more.

Surround Sound Presentation: There are many instance of the speakers working together in the rear and side channels to add some spooky atmosphere, but also unique sounds for great effect. There is some nice travel to it as well with good power across the room.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp and the phone/spirit voice are nicely blended into the mix.

Extras

The Black Phone comes with the DVD edition and a redeemable digital code.

Audio Commentary

  • By Producer/Co-Writer/Director Scott Derrickson

Deleted Scenes (HD, 1:21)

Ethan Hawke’s Evil Turn (HD, 4:25) – “I’m 51 now, it might be time for me to go to the dark side”. This one talks a little about what you’re supposed to feel about The Grabber and Ethan Hawke’s performance and excitement to act with his voice because he is masked the whole movie.

Answering The Call: Behind The Scenes Of The Black Phone (HD, 10:40) – This is a swift little making of that talks about getting the Sinister band back together again and focusing on Scott Derrickson’s work and making a horror film based around real stuff happening in the world and in his area growing up.

Devil In The Design (HD, 5:15) – This featurette takes a loot at the costuming, makeup and prop departments on the film, interviewing those who pulled off the magic. Lookout for a Tom Savini appearance!

Super 8 Set (HD, 1:48) – This talks about the use of Super 8 film on the flashbacks in the film to help evoke the language and time period the kids are living in. Hawke mentions that there’s something creepy about the aesthetic too.

Shadowprowler: A Short Film By Scott Derrickson (HD, 11:57) – A nifty, slasher-like short.

Summary

The Black Phone is one of the year’s best wide releases and just a terrific mainstream horror flick to boot. Universal brings the Blumhouse spook show to Blu-ray with terrific video and audio quality. The extras are of the more brief nature, but are fun and informative. Here’s hoping this can nab a 4K at some point, but for standard Blu-ray this is probably top notch for a new film on home video from a big studio for release.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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