The Black Phone – REVIEW & COCKTAIL

Ah, Blumhouse. The studio that will never let you forget it produced Get Out. To their credit, they do have several popular and successful movies under their belt, but if you look at their entire filmography, well, they don’t exactly have the most flawless track record. Despite liking quite a few of their films, I usually associate Blumhouse with very middle of the road films meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator. So I approach many of their films with understandable caution and fairly low expectations.

Their latest film, The Black Phone, didn’t exactly hook me incredibly hard after I saw the trailer, but because it comes from Sinister director Scott Derickson and features Sinister star Ethan Hawke, I did expect a decent level of quality from this movie. And from a quality standpoint, it’s certainly tight, atmospheric, and sometimes fairly chilling. Hawke is certainly an entertaining villain, and the child stars successfully carry the weight of the film. It’s a good watch, but its hesitance to really push the envelope, its underwhelming scares, and its underutilization of its killer keep the film from being truly great.

Mason Thames as Finney

Set in the 70s, a serial child killer nicknamed The Grabber is at large in a small Denver suburb. A young boy named Finney becomes his latest attempted victime, being locked in a sound-proofed basement under the Grabber’s house. Luckily for him, his sister experiences bizarre dreams that give her clues to the Grabber’s whereabouts. While she tries to get the adults around her to listen to her visions, Finney discovers an inoperable black phone in the basement that allows him to speak with the Grabber’s past victims, assisting him in his attempted escape. In comparison to Derrickson’s past films like Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the film takes more of a supernatural thriller approach rather than being a straight up horror approach. While this means the film lacks some genuine scares, it does make up for it with its grimey, retro aesthetic. The attention to detail here really makes the 70s setting work effectively, capturing a bit of the serial killer paranoia that was growing at that time, as well as the shared experiences of childhood urban legends. Like many movies from and set in this time period, you do find the usual character archetypes like the bullies who are merciless beyond reason and the neglectful parents ready to beat you with a belt rather than having an actual conversation. Yet, Mason Thames as Finney and Madeleine McGraw as his sister Gwen do a fantastic job at carrying the emotional weight of the film while grounding it in believability. They both sell the horrors of their experiences while also bringing some welcoming comedic moments, crafting a narrative that manages to be both bleak and hopeful. 

But as I’ve said before, what is a horror film without its villain? Ethan Hawke’s Grabber is both menacing, enticing, and a bit funny. Every time he’s onscreen he brings an uncertainty to what will happen next, shrouded in a getup including different mood masks and a black top hat that I’m almost certain to see at Spirit Halloween in the fall. His performance is rightly restrained, never going too over the top with what could have been an easy Joker knockoff. I do feel like we don’t get nearly enough of him though, both physically and from a lore standpoint. We never really understand or even get hints to why he wears the masks, why he kidnaps children, etcetera etcetera. A lot could have been done to flesh this character out beyond giving him an interesting appearance, to the point it almost feels like they wanted to keep him just vague enough to warrant an eventual prequel film. 

Ethan Hawke as The Grabber

When you step back and look at the film as a whole, there’s a lot of different ideas at play here. Masked killer with apparent daddy issues, a phone haunted by child murder victims, a girl who recieves haunting visions. It’s a lot to stuff into a relatively short film, and while these films work out fine with what we got, there’s still a lot of questions. A lot of these concepts don’t end up playing out in a fairly satisfying way, and this really leads the films down an unfortunate path of forgettability. When I think about Sinister, I think about those home tapes, like that god damn lawn mower scene. Those scenes burn themselves into your brain, and there’s really nothing like that here. The R rating doesn’t entirely feel needed, with very little gore and a noticeable lack of scares. I can appreciate the difference in direction for Derrickson here, but I do fear that it missed the mark on becoming truly iconic.

Rating

(out of a possible 5 black balloons)

Cold Call

I’ve always strived to cover a wide variety of flavors when it comes to making these cocktails, but some days I do have to face the fact that there are flavors I do not like, but other people do. And what kind of bartender would I be if I couldn’t make a cocktail for every type of palette. So on today’s episode of Flavors Brandon Doesn’t Like, we’re mixing with coffee today. Much to the dismay of my 3 cups a day wife, I have never liked the taste of coffee. It’s a bit too bitter and earthy for my taste, and it always feels like the flavor powers through any amount of cream or sweeteners I add to it. But I know people love the taste and far be it from me to deprive them of a movie cocktail without it. For this cocktail I’m doing a bit of a riff on an irish coffee, using a mix of cold brew, rum, and burnt sugar syrup. Then we’re going to top it off with some chocolatey hoppiness from a can of Guinness, and finished off with a float of cream. This cocktail is robust with just a bit of burnt sweetness, complimented by the hoppy bitterness of both the coffee and the dark stout.

How does it connect to the film? Well the dark lower half represents the dark basement our main character is trapped in, the floating cream represents the glowing light of freedom he must climb to reach.

Does it sound like I’m talking out of my ass? Don’t answer.

Ingredients

  • 1.5oz cold-brew coffee
  • 1.5oz dark rum
  • 1/2oz burnt sugar simple syrup (1 cup sugar, 3/4 cup hot water)
  • Top: Stout
  • Float: Cream

Instructions

  1. For the syrup, heat the sugar in a skillet over medium-high heat until the sugar melts and becomes dark brown. Remove from heat and stir in the hot water until incorporated. Return to heat and allow to cook until the syrup thickens and bubbles slightly. Let cool before using.
  2. In a shaker, add your cold brew, dark rum and burnt sugar syrup and shake with ice.
  3. Strain or open pour into tall glass.
  4. Top with stout.
  5. Gently float cream on top of cocktail by slowly pouring it over the back of spoon. (If you’d like, stir in the cream with the rest of the cocktail).

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