Do you remember what it was like to be a kid? Do you also make horror movies? If so, the genre needs you. It’s not something I’ve thought much about before, but watching Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone last night, as I absorbed the authentic schoolkid behavior depicted in his film, it occurred to me that we don’t get a whole lot of it in horror. And it might be the secret ingredient in making kid-centric horror that lands. Because holy shit, does The Black Phone land.
There are of course kids IN horror: Carol Anne in Poltergeist, the tiny little nightmare child of The Babadook, Bob from 1981’s Possession (my other screening today - lordy, that restoration is beautiful). But too often these kids are presented through the prism of the adult protagonists who care for them, and as such aren’t beholden to any particular level of authenticity. They’re whatever that adult narrative needs of them from moment to moment. But The Black Phone is presented from the perspective of children, and therefore needs kids who feel relatable, and in achieving that Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, working off the excellent blueprint of Joe Hill’s short story, engage in world-building no less complicated (and ultimately no less impressive) than the more fantastical offerings at the fest. In a way, their job is harder than the ground-floor rebuilding done by other filmmakers, because we might not even recognize a false note in, say, After Blue, but the quiet dread of a 1978 neighborhood that’s having its kids snatched up by an unknown perpetrator? Some of us remember it, and if you screw that up, the film’s plot - a young boy who’s been abducted and held in a basement by a child killer receives spectral help from the murderer’s previous victims via a disconnected phone mounted to the wall - falls apart. But the kids feel real, and the neighborhood feels real. I can confirm Derrickson’s comment in the Q&A; ‘70s kids threw rocks at each other and made each other bleed. And our parents, often in a bit over their heads, would keep order under the threat of violence. These scenes might rattle modern viewers more than the film’s ominous child predator, but to quote the man who sat in front of me at the first 3D movie I ever saw, that shit was real. So we buy in to the reality, and we’re taken on a terrifying ride in which the real collides seamlessly with the supernatural. The Black Phone opens in late January; I can’t wait to talk to you more about it then.
Next: a restored folk horror classic, and Scott Wampler attempts to take 20 people to brunch.