After helming critically appreciated genre titles The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister (as well as the first Doctor Strange), Scott Derrickson is back in the horror lane this weekend with The Black Phone. Based on a short story by Joe Hill, the supernatural tale began garnering solid buzz when it premiered at Fantastic Fest last fall. Ethan Hawke is the most recognizable name in a cast that includes Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, and James Ransone.
Scary movies always face an uphill battle for awards attention. Despite its 100% Rotten Tomatoes score, I don’t foresee Phone dialing up a Best Picture nod. On the other hand, particular acclaim has been afforded to its young costars Thames and McGraw. In order for them to grab any buzz in the supporting fields, the film’s box office reception would need to be fantastic. While I’ve got it performing well, I am not envisioning it reaching that kind of level. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
After ringing up lots of positive reception last fall at Fantastic Fest, the supernatural horror pic The Black Phone arrives in theaters June 24th. Based on a short story by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), Scott Derrickson directs. His biggest blockbuster is 2016’s Doctor Strange, but he’s a veteran of the genre including helming The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister. His lead from the latter – Ethan Hawke – stars as a serial killer. Costars include Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, and James Ransone.
In September 2021, Phone garnered serious buzz at the Austin fest. While some reviewers nitpicked pacing issues, the Rotten Tomatoes score is 100% with particular praise for its young performers Thames and McGraw. With a reported budget of under $20 million, this should be another profitable venture for Blumhouse. That production company is used to turning a tidy profit for many of their titles.
During the COVID era, frightening tales were generally immune from negative box office effects. I would look for Phone to earn its price tag back during the first weekend.
The Black Phone opening weekend prediction: $18.6 million
It bloats. That would be Chapter Two of the saga that was adapted from Stephen King’s novel to monstrous box office results in 2017. A rumination on childhood friendship and fears that happened to feature a demented clown (with a humdinger of a performance by Bill Skarsgard and his creepy eyes as Pennywise), it was easy to see why It cashed in. Set in the 1980s (when the book was released) as opposed to the 1950s, the pic had a retro vibe fitting the Stranger Things and Steven Spielberg mold. Featuring fine performances by its band of teens called The Losers, the scariest parts of It often involved what adults were capable of doing to the group as opposed to Pennywise in clown or other forms.
In Chapter Two, it’s The Losers who are the adults. They come together 27 years after the events of chapter one in the town of Derry, Maine. This was choreographed at the conclusion of It two years back, but the grownup Losers only have scant memories of warding off Pennywise in 1989. We as the audience remember it well, but it takes around an hour of the nearly three hour running time for nearly all of them to recall. And that’s a slog.
On the positive side, the casting here is impressive. James McAvoy is de facto leader Bill, now a successful horror author who can’t ever write a satisfactory ending to his works (something King himself is often accused of). In my It review, I speculated that Amy Adams could inhabit the part of Beverly, the lone female of the club who continues to suffer from physical abuse started by her demented father. Jessica Chastain got the role and she’s another obvious choice. The most memorable performances here, however, come from Bill Hader as Richie, now a standup comic and James Ransone as hypochondriac Eddie. They’re responsible for some much needed comic relief and occasional moments that are genuinely funny. And while Jay Ryan might not exactly physically resemble the younger overweight New Kids on the Block loving Ben (who still has a crush on Beverly), the casting club found a performer whose eyes match his youthful counterpart Jeremy Ray Taylor.
Of course, there’s also Skarsgard having a ball as Pennywise. It comes in many forms and in many situations. It comes at night. It comes during daytime. It comes as a creepy old lady who lives in Beverly’s old apartment. It comes as a giant spider. It comes as famous lumberjacks. It comes in ways that display decent CG and dodgy CG. It’s a mixed bag of appearances.
Chapter Two is overstuffed and overlong. It’s as if director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman (the team behind the first chapter) wanted to be as faithful as possible to King’s book and leave as little out as possible. A tightening of the screws might have been a wiser course of action. King himself (who cleverly cameos) has stated in interviews that the why of why monsters do what they do is fairly incidental. The time spent linking Pennywise to Native American rituals and the creature’s background feels just that. That Stephen King might be onto something.
The long continuation of this story does certainly feature a couple of spine tingling sequences, fine acting, and amusing bits. Unfortunately it does not represent a hefty portion of its 169 minutes and that’s why this chapter just can’t match the more tightly contained first one.
Two years ago, Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel It broke box office records in the horror genre and became an instant audience favorite. Yet it didn’t end up registering with awards voters in any fashion… not even for Pennywise’s creepy makeup job.
This weekend, the eagerly awaited sequel arrives and the review embargo has floated away. ChapterTwo holds a decent 79% Rotten Tomatoes score, but that’s beneath the 86% achieved by its predecessor. A consistent theme in much of the critical reaction is that many parts work, but that it’s also overlong and doesn’t quite measure up to chapter one.
If It couldn’t garner Oscar attention, don’t expect this to. I will make make one further prediction. Another common factor in the reviews is praise for Bill Hader’s performance and he’s said to be a scene stealer. Don’t be surprised to see some chatter and wishful thinking for a Supporting Actor nod that will never come to pass. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
ItChapterTwo will no doubt float to the top of the charts next weekend when it’s unleashed in cinemas. The Stephen King adapted horror epic continues the story of the Losers Club battling demonic clown Pennywise and hopes to rake in similar earnings to its 2017 predecessor. Andy Muschietti returns in the director’s seat with Bill Skarsgard back as Pennywise. Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Wyatt Oleff reprise their roles as the youthful Losers Club. Part 2 also flashes forward in time and finds James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader (said to be a scene stealer), Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, and Andy Bean portraying their adult versions. This is the only wide release of the weekend as other studios steered clear.
It was a genuine box office phenomenon when it came out during the same post Labor Day frame two years ago. Bursting out of the gate with $123.4 million, it ended its domestic gross at just over $327 million. That made It the largest September opening of all time and highest debuting and overall earning horror feature ever.
ChapterTwo stands a real chance at breaking those records. Unlike some sequels in 2019 that followed long after previous entries, chapter one is still fresh in the minds of audiences. There’s a desire to see how it wraps up. That said, I’ll say this falls under what that creepy clown and company accomplished in 2017.
ItChapterTwo opening weekend prediction: $109.7 million
For all I know, director Ti West was exposed to the films of Quentin Tarantino last week. I doubt it. His western doesn’t really like feel inspired by QT’s genre works like DjangoUnchained and TheHatefulEight.
Instead, it seems like Mr. West’s western could be a product of the fact that the filmmaker was a young teen when PulpFiction came out in 1994. Just maybe that teen wanted to make a genre pic that felt a bit like Tarantino – the sudden jolts of violence, the dialogue that sounds a little hipper than the time period, the cool vintage fonts on the title cards. In 1994, Pulp resuscitated John Travolta’s career. Here he’s cast as the nefarious Marshal ruling a deserted Old West town. Ethan Hawke became a Gen X star that year as well in RealityBites. Here he’s the strong, silent, and complicated hero who must go up against him. Maybe I’m reaching for connections to make my point. However, that’s how InaValleyofViolence felt to me and it was an appealing experience. And I haven’t mentioned the super cool dog yet…
Paul (Hawke) and his dog Abbie (Jumpy) are making their way to Mexico (their motives are unclear for a bit) when he comes across the town of Denton. It’s sparse in both population and set design, allowing this to look like a low-budget old timey western from decades ago. Blumhouse, the studio that specializes in bargain basement priced horror flicks, is behind this so it makes some sense. It’s clear that Paul knows how to fight, but doesn’t want to. Unfortunately dim-witted deputy Gilly (James Ransone) rattles his cage in small ways at first and then big ones. Suddenly Paul’s trip south of the border is delayed for revenge purposes. And he must also deal with Gilly’s father, Travolta’s aforementioned Marshal.
Valley doesn’t take itself very seriously. There’s a lot of humor and much of it is well written and well placed. Travolta has been known to overact over the last couple decades since his comeback. Here he does it in a role that seems appropriate for it. Hawke plays the lonely cowboy straight and solidly. Taissa Farmiga provides a spark as a town resident desperate to get out. And it’s not often I’d mention the real name of the dog in a film, but Jumpy deserves the shout out for a real performance. More kudos go to composer Jeff Grace for a pitch perfect score.
Again, I have no idea if my Ti West/Tarantino hypothesis (who’s worked in horror before this) holds merit. No, it doesn’t reach the brilliant level of impact and the dialogue isn’t consistently as poetic as Quentin’s. There’s moments and enough of them, however, to make the connection worth mentioning.
Sinister 2 opens next Friday and hopes to replicate the success of its 2012 predecessor that became a sleeper hit. This time around, expectations may be a little higher but I’m not convinced it’ll even reach the domestic take of its predecessor.
The original Sinister capitalized on solid reviews and opened to a robust $18 million in October 2012 on its way to a $48 million domestic haul. The sequel only finds one returning cast member with James Ransone as a cop. Ethan Hawke, the film’s original star, is nowhere to be found which makes sense if you’ve seen the picture.
While horror enthusiasts mostly regarded Sinister with approval, I’m not so sure fans will rush out to see its sequel. I believe Sinister 2 will have a tough time even matching the $18M mark and an opening in the mid teens seems more likely.
Sinister 2 opening weekend prediction: $16.2 million