CREDIT: Fred Norris/Universal Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures/Screenshot

The Black Phone:

Starring: Mason Thames, Ethan Hawke, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, E. Roger Mitchell, Troy Rudeseal, James Ransone

Director: Scott Derrickson

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rating: R for Brutal Home Lives and Bloody Escapes

Release Date: June 24, 2022 (Theaters)


Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Running Time: 159 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Rock Star Excess and Rock Fan Excess

Release Date: June 24, 2022 (Theaters)

I recently saw The Black Phone and Elvis on consecutive days, so it’s time for another two-for-one movie review! Do these two flicks have anything in common besides opening in theaters on the same day? Well, they’re both kind of overwhelming in their own particular ways. If you’re like me and enjoy any and every cinematic genre, you might be struggling to figure out which of these to prioritize this weekend, or maybe you’re planning to make time for both of them. So I’ll go ahead and let you know what I think while throwing in a bit of comparing/contrasting, and hopefully that’ll give you a bit of a confidence boost.

I’ll start off with The Black Phone, both because I saw it first and because I prioritize horror. This is the reunion of Ethan Hawke, director Scott Derrickson, and producer Jason Blum we’ve all been waiting for since they collaborated on the incredibly grisly Sinister ten years ago. I mentioned at the top that both movies on the docket are overwhelming, and I’m not talking about the scares here. At least not the ones we typically associate with the genre. Let me put it this way: I was not prepared for the level of domestic violence on display. But perhaps I should have, given the pedigree. It’s based on a short story by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, and it’s “like father, like son” when it comes to the supernatural making itself at home in a town that’s rotting to its core.

But the evil going on here is very much of the human variety. Young teen Finney (Mason Thames) is snatched by a notorious, black balloon-toting local serial kidnapper known as “The Grabber” (Hawke). He’s then locked away in a basement, but luckily he’s got some help in the form of the titular device that transmits messages from The Grabber’s previous victims, as well as from his psychically gifted sister (Madeleine McGraw). Can he put together the resolve necessary to emerge from this nightmare? Let me put it this way: it would be a MUCH more difficult watch if there weren’t any hope to grab onto.

As for Elvis, I expected it to be at least a little overwhelming. It is, after all, directed by Baz Luhrmann, a man completely unfamiliar with minimalism. But that’s exactly the sort of over-the-top style I can get on board with! Right from the start, you need to strap yourself in tight, as all the attractions come fast, hard, and bright. Split screens of concert footage from every angle! A relentless soundtrack consisting of all The King’s classic and new takes from today’s artists! That makeup job on Tom Hanks as Elvis’ longtime manager Col. Tom Parker! There’s nothing to do but surrender to it all … and I’m happy to oblige.

But alas, Elvis gradually shifts from overwhelmingly fun to just plain overwhelming. That energy is kinda hard to sustain for nearly 3 hours. It’s buoyed along just enough by Austin Butler’s effortlessly charismatic lead performance as well as Hanks’ perfectly opposed villainous charisma. But they can’t hide the fact that this is a fairly straightforward music biopic that tries to cram a couple of decades into a couple of hours. It does at least take a fairly unique Mephistophelian approach, but I couldn’t help but feel at a certain point that Luhrmann was just checking off Elvis’ greatest hits. Look, if you love Elvis, you’ll probably find something to love here. But I doubt it’ll be anywhere close to the orgasmic reactions from his most enraptured fans who got to see him in person.

The Black Phone: 3.5 out of 5 Black Balloons
Elvis: 2.5 out of 5 Pelvises