Based on Joe Hill’s short story of the same name, Black Phone is a dark and disturbing tale set in a small Colorado town in 1978. Although not based on true events, the film will still be relevant to anyone who grew up in that era. at that time, because it was a time in history when it was unusual for the faces of missing children to appear on the side of milk cartons.
Unfortunately, many of these children were never seen again, and this is the case in Scott Derickson’s (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) film, where several children disappeared without a trace. The identity of their abductor is unknown, but a young girl, Gwen (Madeline McGraw), has psychic abilities that reveal clues about the Grabber, a hunter-like figure whose name terrorizes the neighborhood children.
When her 13-year-old brother Finny (Mason Thames) falls victim to this masked monster, Gwen tells her disbelieving father (Jeremy Davies) that he is behind the boy’s abduction. He’s slow to listen, but the local police, in desperate need of a good lead, listens to him and begins searching for the hapless teenager.
Meanwhile, Finney, now locked in a dark basement, begins to plot his escape. Since Grabber is bigger and stronger than him, his chances of survival are slim. Thankfully, help finally arrives when a disconnected black phone mysteriously starts ringing in the corner of the room. The callers on the other end of the phone aren’t call center employees trying to persuade Finney to switch to better broadband tales. Instead, they are the ghosts of the Grabber’s previous victims, who advise Finny on what he must do to avoid the dire fate that may await him.
It’s not the first film to focus on the plight of abducted youth, but it offers a new twist on films you may have seen before as it mixes supernatural themes into its terrifying story.
There will be times when you find yourself trapped as Finny, hoping for a happy ending as you watch the hapless teenager fail in his attempts to escape the killer’s clutches. Only when the black phone starts ringing can you be a little more hopeful, but knowing that the calling ghosts can’t escape the Grabber, you can be heartbroken when you assume Finny will share the same fate.
It would be wrong for me to reveal more about the plot, but if you are brave enough to watch this terrifying tale of terror, you can find out for yourself about the twists and turns of the story. I recommend you go and see it because it is one of the best horror movies of recent times.
Hawkes is downright badass as the child-snapping serial killer and manages to chill the bones every time he appears on screen. But while he’s probably the actor most talked about by people watching this movie, it’s Thames who gives the strongest performance, as he needs to capture every sense of terror he’s experiencing on his frightened young face.
He’s brilliant in the role, and if there’s any justice in the world, he should go on to a great acting career as Hawke, who made an early impression as a child actor in the 1980s.
Obvious comparisons can be made to IT and Stranger Things, with its small-town setting and children in danger story, but Derrickson manages to tell a much scarier tale. Pennywise is certainly a monstrous creation, but there’s nothing more terrifying than a trans-dimensional entity that captures children for its own depraved pleasure in a man that none of us can relate to.
Grabber is scary because we know there are people like him in the world, even if they don’t wear scary face masks to hide their identities. Any parent who watched Black Phone will definitely think twice before letting their kids roam the streets unsupervised after watching this movie!
Great Opening Sequence
With a great opening sequence as we learn more about Finney and some of the other teenagers in the neighborhood, it’s often tense and scary. The abduction scene is bone-chilling, and the moments where we both see and hear the spirits of the Grabber victims are very well executed.
The only downsides to Black Phone are the rushed ending and the lack of backstory regarding the Grabber. These are only minor flaws in a very good film, but if Derrickson had taken the time to tell a more detailed story, this could have been a future classic.
Even if ‘like’ is the wrong word when discussing a movie about child abduction and murder, there’s still a lot to like here. It’s one of Blumhouse’s best and will likely haunt you for days afterward. It’s probably Derrickson’s best film (although Sinister is a worthy contender) and proof that horror films can still be creepy without lots of gore and violence.