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5/10/2022 • 3 min read
In THE BLACK PHONE, Ethan Hawke plays a masked kidnapper who confines his young victims to a windowless room before seemingly doing away with them. When one boy is taken he discovers a strange and possibly supernatural link to the man's past victims — and they're eager to help the boy escape.
One of the most arresting aspects of the horror movie is the array of masks worn by Hawke's character. Once we got over our fright we did the natural thing: We ranked all his masks in order of their scare factor. (Hint: They're all terrifying.)
There are no spoilers here, by the way. Every image is from the movie's trailer — watch it just below — which also means there may be more masks that we haven't seen yet.
Let's get one thing straight: All these masks are freaky. You never want to see anyone wearing this mask in real life, especially if they've kidnapped you and are holding you in an inescapable room. But this one is such a sad clown face that it just isn't *quite* as terrifying as the others. This monster is disappointed in you but isn't going to straight-up murder you… yet.
The modular aspect of Hawke's character's mask is really something. (It's also weirdly similar to the way some of those gorgeous stop-motion movies from Laika are animated — many character faces have swappable mouthpieces for all different letter sounds.) But here you can see the actor's soulful eyes so clearly that they soften the fear factor.
It would be nearly impossible to have a conversation while facing this mask, even if the person wearing it could speak from behind it. It is more unsettling than fully terrifying, which is not to say we ever want to see anyone wearing this.
OK, now we're into super-scary territory. Why does this mask even exist? Why is it made to feature different facial expressions? How long did it take to design and create? Did he outsource the production? So many questions. But the main question is obviously: How can we get far, far away from this face?
The thought, planning, and production poured into the actual masks helps make them scary. There's no getting around the premeditated aspect of their existence. But this off-the-shelf white face paint is more frightening in some ways because it is so simple. It is almost passable as a stage make-up effect. Almost. The too-tight satin shirt doesn't help. It's like Hawke's character tried to be a showman many years ago and he is trying to pull off the role long after its sell-by date. If this man asks if you want to see a magic trick, the only answer is to yell "stranger danger" as you run away as fast as possible.
Ignore the blood on his face and that gory implement, if only for a moment. With only the top half of his mask in place, Hawke's character is like a very messed-up comic book villain — or someone inspired by that kind of character. While the other half-only mask allows us to see the character in Hawke's eyes, here that aspect is hidden, and he looks all-too realistically monstrous. OK, now you can think about the blood… and get ready to scream.
All images courtesy of Universal Pictures.
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