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Scott Derrickson
Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw
Writing Credits:
Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill

After being abducted by a child killer and locked in a soundproof basement, a 13-year-old boy starts to receive calls from the killer's previous victims.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English Dolby Atmos
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 103 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 10/3/2023

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Scott Derrickson
• Deleted Scenes
• “Ethan Hawke’s Evil Turn” Featurette
• “Answering the Call” Featurette
• “Devil in the Design” Featurette
• “Super 8 Set” Featurette
Shadowprowler Short Film
• Previews
• Blu-Ray Copy


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Sony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Dolby Vision Blu-ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


The Black Phone [4K UHD] (2022)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 10, 2023)

When we last saw Scott Derrickson, he worked as the director of 2016’s Marvel Cinematic Universe hit Doctor Strange. However, when the second Doctor Strange film hit screens in spring 2022, Derrickson wasn’t involved.

Apparently Derrickson intended to do Multiverse of Madness but he stepped away for personal reasons. He didn’t stay idle, though, and 2022’s The Black Phone represents his first movie since the 2016 Doctor Strange.

Set in Colorado circa 1978, adolescent boys start to go missing. This sets the community on edge and rumors about a kidnapper dubbed “The Grabber” run rampant.

One day 13-year-old Finney Blake (Mason Thames) becomes the Grabber’s (Ethan Hawke) latest victim. As he struggles to remain alive in the Grabber’s basement prison, Finney’s younger sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) works to use her nascent psychic powers to find him.

As I’ve noted probably 1000 times, I go into modern-day horror movies with fairly low expectations since so many of them rely heavily on cheap scare tactics. Few really attempt to develop terror from the ground up, as they find it easier to just yell “boo” and startle viewers that way.

Derrickson’s filmography gave me some optimism, though on the guarded side. I did like his Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us From Evil more than expected.

However, Doctor Strange was mediocre as far as MCU movies go. Derrickson’s first real big budget flick was his 2008 The Day the Earth Stood Still remake, and that became a dull experience. 2012’s Sinister also failed to enthrall me.

This took me into Phone with some hopes of a good movie but no real expectations for one. Derrickson’s filmography just seemed too erratic.

Happily, Phone becomes a reasonably involving effort, though not one that comes without flaws – pretty big flaws, to be honest. Though plot holes are nearly inevitable in horror movies, the story issues with Phone seem more prominent than usual.

A discussion of these would inevitably lead to spoilers, so I won’t say much. Just note that aspects of Finney’s imprisonment often don’t make a ton of sense, and the movie needs to find extreme contrivances to keep him in that situation.

In addition, Gwen plays a surprisingly extraneous role in the proceedings. Again, too much coverage of this area would deliver spoilers, but I think the movie could essentially lose the character’s psychic powers and fare no worse without her.

Actually, I think Phone might work better in that situation, mainly because it suffers somewhat whenever it leaves Grabber’s basement. The tale feels more effective when it keeps the viewer trapped with Finney, so excursions to the rest of the world alleviate too much of the tension.

These criticisms aside, Phone does create an above average horror tale, mainly because Derrickson gives it the appropriate unsettling tone. Of course, the story’s grounding in the real world helps.

Much of Phone involves paranormal material, as both Gwen’s visions and the way the Grabber’s victims help Finney from beyond the grave clearly take it out of the realm of realism. Nonetheless, Derrickson treats the subject matter in a serious manner that doesn’t play up the fantasy.

The nature of the Grabber adds to this. It seems easy to make comparisons between Phone and Stephen King’s It, especially since the Grabber uses kid-friendly shtick to lure his victims.

The difference comes from the Grabber’s connection to actual serial killers like Ted Bundy. Whereas It’s Pennywise offers a figure of pure fantasy, Grabber seems all too believable.

Hawke gives the Grabber the right mix of oddball, pervert and violent menace. He doesn’t overdo any of these, and his performance adds impact to the tale.

The young leads do well, too, as Thames manages to make Finney feel like a real kid. Though I still don’t know how relevant Gwen becomes in the long run, McGraw nonetheless offers a vibrant turn that gives her character more dimensionality than otherwise might’ve been the case.

Derrickson also manages to imbue the movie with the necessary creepy vibe. Honestly, not a lot really happens in the story, but the tension remains pervasive, and Derrickson milks our concerns for Finney’s fate well.

Phone becomes a movie that doesn’t hold up to real scrutiny, mainly due to the large plot holes I mentioned. Nonetheless, it feels like a whole that stands as more than the sum of its parts. Despite its weaknesses, it still becomes an involving and eerie experience.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

The Black Phone appears in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. A true 4K product, the movie offered a pretty strong transfer.

Overall definition seemed positive. A smidgen of softness hit some interior shots – and these appeared intentional as part of design - but most of the movie showed nice delineation.

I witnessed no issued with shimmering or jagged edges, and edge haloes remained absent. No print flaws cropped up along the way – outside of intentional “defects” in some period-representation Super 8 footage, that is.

Like virtually all modern horror tales, Phone opted for a stylized palette that favored amber/orange with some teal tossed in as well. The hues worked fine for the material, especially given the period/autumnal setting. HDR added range to the tones.

Blacks seemed dark, while shadows showed positive clarity most of the time, though a few interiors felt a little dim. As with other aspects of the picture, this again seemed to deliver a photographic choice.

HDR brought impact to whites and contrast. This became a quality presentation.

Similar thoughts greeted the film’s Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Downconverted to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, it went for a fairly atmospheric air, as the mix gave us logical accompaniment for the creepy visuals.

This meant music popped up around the room and became somewhat dominant while effects remained mostly in the environmental realm. Violent scenes used the channels in an active manner, though, and those added pizzazz to the proceedings. Don’t expect a lot of activity here, though, given the movie’s fairly subdued vibe.

Audio quality was good. Dialogue appeared natural and concise, while music showed nice range and impact.

Effects boasted positive punch and dimensionality, with deep low-end when necessary. Though not a killer mix, the audio fit the story.

How did the 4K UHD compare to the Blu-ray version? The Atmos audio expanded on the prior mix to a moderate degree, but given the semi-subdued nature of the soundscape, the two felt pretty similar.

As noted, we got a true 4K product with this disc, and that meant improvements in delineation, colors and blacks. I thought the image lacked the “sparkle factor” that would get it an “A”-level grade, but this nonetheless became an upgrade over the already satisfying Blu-ray.

The 4K disc repeats the Blu-ray’s extras, and we begin with an audio commentary from writer/director Scott Derrickson. He provides a running, screen-specific look at his personal interest in the project, the source and its adaptation, story/characters, reflections of his childhood, cast and performances, music and photography, sets and locations, various design choices, and related areas.

Expect a solid commentary, as Derrickson touches on a lot of useful areas here. In particular, his reflections of his childhood and influences give the discussion an unusual layer of depth.

This becomes a strong chat overall, though Derrickson makes one weird goof. When he refers to special effects legend Tom Savini, he persistently calls him Tom Savino. He also refers to corporal punishment as “corporeal punishment”, but the Savini/Savino thing seems weirder.

Two Deleted Scenes appear: “Is This America Now?” (0:52) and “No Dreams” (0:33). “America” features Finney’s father’s reaction to the kidnappings, and “Dreams” looks at a brief discussion between Finney and Emily. As implied by their brevity, neither adds much.

Some featurettes follow and Ethan Hawke’s Evil Turn runs four minutes, 25 seconds. It includes notes from co-writer C. Robert Cargill, executive producer Ryan Turek, and actors Ethan Hawke and Mason Thames.

As implied, “Turn” looks at Hawke’s character and performance. Not much substance emerges, but we get a few decent details.

Answering the Call goes for 10 minutes, 40 seconds and involves Derrickson, Hawke, Cargill, Thames, director of photography Brett Jutkiewicz, hair stylist Priscilla Green, stunt coordinator Mark Riccardi, production designer Patti Podesta, key hair stylist Weldon Steinke, and actors Tristan Pravong, Brady Hepner, Madeline McGraw, Miguel Cazarez Mora, Jacob Moran, and Banks Repeta.

“Call” examines the project’s roots and development, story and characters, visual choices and period elements, cast and performances, and Derrickson’s impact on the production. This becomes a sporadically informative but somewhat superficial reel.

With Devil in the Design, we get a five-minute, 15-second piece that features Hawke, Podesta, Cargill, Thames, Steinke, Jutkiewicz, assistant property master Ashley Clements, set costumer Laurel Pocucha Ojala, hair department head Michelle Johnson, makeup FX department head Rick Pour, sound mixer Kevin Strahm, and mask designers/creators Tom Savini and Jason Baker.

This program covers period elements and hair/costume/production design as well as some effects. We find a short but interesting view of the topics.

Super 8 Set spans one minute, 48 seconds and brings comments from Jutkiewicz, Cargill, and Hawke. This gives us a brief and nearly insight-free look at the movie’s use of Super 8.

Next comes Shadowprowler, a short film made by Derrickson. It lasts 11 minutes, 57 seconds.

Teenager Brady (Dashiell Derrickson) deals with a mysterious intruder (Atticus Derrickson). It doesn’t go much of anywhere.

A second disc provides a Blu-ray copy of Phone. It includes the same extras as the 4K.

Note that all the supplements subtitles listed under the disc’s specs apply solely to the Blu-ray, as the 4K omits any text for its bonus materials.

The Blu-ray opens with ads for Memory and The Munsters (2022). No trailer for Phone appears here.

Due to a mix of serious plot flaws, I cannot call The Black Phone a great horror movie. Nonetheless, it still manages to deliver a creepy, tense experience, so it works despite its problems. The 4K UHD comes with pretty good picture and audio along with bonus materials headlined by a terrific commentary. Expect an erratic but largely engaging tale here.

To rate this film please visit the Blu-ray review of BLACK PHONE

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main