Movie Diary 8/15/2022

Black Phone (Scott Derrickson, 2022). There are many levels of disbelief to be suspended here, in a story that involves a rash of child kidnappings in the 1970s (it has to be a period piece, because cell phones would ruin the story). One is a telephone line that apparently connects to the next world, a premise that Stephen King might flip into the Reject file. Derrickson, who directed the dismal Day the Earth Stood Still remake and the pretty decent Sinister, gets a lot of genre flourishes right, like the abrupt fades-to-black whenever the kidnapper’s van swings into the vicinity of a victim, and the creepy design of an underground dungeon. Ethan Hawke plays the villain, with a menacing mask that owes more to Hollywood franchising than reality; he brings an actual performance, maybe more than the movie deserves. The unpleasantness of the subject – children in jeopardy and the hints about what happens to them before they are murdered – makes the going queasier than your usual horror-movie exercise.