One of Blumhouse’s best productions
Based on Joe Hill’s short story of the same name, The Black Phone is a dark and disturbing tale that takes place in a small Colorado town in 1978. While not based on real events, the movie will still be relatable to anybody who grew up during that time, as this was a period in history when it wasn’t uncommon to see the faces of missing kids located on the side of milk cartons.
Sadly, many of these kids were never seen again and such is the case in Scott Derickson’s (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) movie, where several children have vanished without a trace. The identity of their abductor is unknown but one young girl, Gwen (Madeline McGraw), has psychic abilities that reveal clues about the Grabber, a bogeyman-like figure whose very name strikes fear in the kids of the neighbourhood.
When her 13-year-old brother Finney (Mason Thames) falls prey to this masked monster, Gwen tells her unbelieving father (Jeremy Davies) that he is behind the boy’s abduction. He is slow to listen but the local police, who are desperately in need of a good lead, listen to her and begin their search for the unfortunate teen.
Meanwhile, Finney, now locked up in a dark basement, begins to plot his escape. His chances for survival are slim as the Grabber is bigger and stronger than he is. Thankfully, help eventually arrives once the disconnected black phone in the corner of the room mysteriously starts to ring. The callers on the other end of the phone aren’t call centre workers trying to encourage Finney to switch to a better broadband tale. Instead, they are the ghosts of the Grabber’s previous victims who advise Finney on what he needs to do to escape the terrible fate that might otherwise await him.
This isn’t the first movie to focus on the plight of abducted youngsters but as it mixes in supernatural themes within its chilling story, it offers a new twist on films you may have seen before. With its themes of high school bullying, child abuse, and parental violence, it is very disturbing and the oppressive atmosphere that Derrickson creates adds to the dark nature of the narrative he is spinning.
There will be times when you feel as trapped as Finney does, with little hope of a happy ending as you watch the luckless teen fail in his attempts to evade the killer’s clutches. It’s only when the black phone starts ringing that you might start to feel a little more hopeful but with the knowledge that the calling spirits failed to escape the Grabber, your heart might sink as you assume Finney will share the same fate they did.
It would be wrong of me to reveal much more about the plot but if you are brave enough to watch this terrifying terror tale, you can learn more about the story’s twists and turns yourself. And I recommend that you do go and see this as it’s one of the better horror movies of recent times.
Hawkes is suitably sinister as the child-snatching serial killer and he manages to chill the bones every time he is seen on screen. But while he will probably be the actor that is most talked about by people who see this film, it’s Thames that probably gives the strongest performance as he needs to capture every terror-stricken feeling he experiences on his frightened young face. He is brilliant in the role and if there is any justice in the world, he should go on to have as big an acting career as Hawke, who made an early impression as a child actor himself back in the 1980s.
With its small-town setting and kids in peril narrative, obvious comparisons can be made to IT and Stranger Things but it’s to Derrickson’s credit that he manages to tell a tale that is possibly more terrifying. Pennywise is a horrifying creation to be sure but there is something more monstrous about a human being that captures children for his deranged pleasure than a trans-dimensional entity that none of us can relate to. The Grabber is scary because we know there are people in the world that are like him, even if they don’t wear terrifying face masks to hide their identities. Any parents watching The Black Phone will surely think twice before letting their kids roam the streets unattended after seeing this film!
For the most part, this is tense and scary, with excellent opening sequences as we get to learn more about Finney and some of the other teens in the neighbourhood. The abduction scene is suitably bone-chilling and the moments when we both see and hear the spirits of the Grabber’s victims are very well-realised.
The only downsides to The Black Phone are the rushed ending and the lack of backstory regarding the Grabber. These are only minor flaws in what is otherwise a very good film but if Derrickson had taken his time to tell a more detailed story, this could have been a future classic.
Still, there is much to like here, even if ‘like’ is probably the wrong word to use when discussing a film about child abduction and murder. It’s one of Blumhouse’s best productions and will likely haunt you for days afterwards. It’s probably Derickson’s best film (although Sinister is a worthy contender) and is proof that horror films can still have the power to cause revulsion without many scenes of gore and violence.
Read More: The Black Phone Ending Explained
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Verdict - 7.5/10