The Black Phone

The Black Phone Movie Review

“The Black Phone” is tightly plotted and wonderfully acted movie about “Stranger Danger” set in the late 1970’s. This was a time of anxious fear of another ‘John Wayne Gacy’ just around the corner. A teenager confronts with abject shock and terror that single scariest of things. That is, an old-fashioned, wall-mounted, rotary-dial telephone! Oh, that and the serial killer who lives upstairs and will always wear freaky masks. Yeah, that’s a scary thing too!


In the northern end of Denver, in the late 70’s, there is unease and a growing sense of dread. A young teenager in high school Finney Shaw (played by Mason Thames) is good in sports and is obsessed with science and outer space. He is stand-out pitcher for the school team. That still does not prevent some bullies from getting to him every now and then. Finney has a sister named Gwen (played by Madeleine McGraw). She is a few years younger, but she and Finney have a close bond.


They live with their dad – Mr. Shaw (played by Jeremy Davies), who is a depressed and mean alcoholic. His wife was ‘touched’ he says, and saw things that were not there. She heard things that nobody else heard. That is what drove her to suicide. But now, the town is on edge because five young boys have been abducted over a fairly short time. Gwen is frightened, because she will sometimes have dreams that involve these boys and the evil monster who has abducted them.


Finney is just walking home from school one day. There a black van parked by the sidewalk. There is clumsy and goofy-looking guy who gets out and drops a bag of groceries. He says he is part-time magician and he can show Finney a cool trick. The trick is on Finney, because the man is a person named Albert — who is known in the papers as ‘The Grabber’ (played by Ethan Hawke). ‘The Grabber’ has now claimed a new victim.


Finney wakes up alone in a small enclosed basement room. There is a stinky old mattress on the floor, and a phone on the wall. The wires are disconnected, and — of course — it is the color black. There is a small side room with a toilet and some rolled up carpets. There is small window, placed up pretty high, and a metal grate around it. There is a very large door, and it locks from the outside. It is looking pretty bleak for Finney. There is nobody there that could help him at all. Maybe not nobody alive, that is…


‘The Grabber’ comes down every once in a while to check up on Finney. But mostly he just plays super-creepy mind games to freak out Finney. “Oh sure, I’ll let you go — just not today” — that sort of thing. But once he leaves, Finney is surprised when the phone, the disconnected phone! starts to ring.  Is Finney going to answer the phone that in all rights should not work? And just who might be on the other end?


About that same time, after Mr. Shaw has realized that there are now two people missing from his life — Gwen has more dreams. She sees the past boys whom have been abducted, including the black balloons that ‘The Grabber’ released after grabbing a boy off the street. The local police are searching for all the boys and now searching for Finney. Detective Barnes (played by E. Roger Mitchell) has some questions for Gwen, but she is not telling them everything.


Finney answers the disconnected Black Phone. But he gets a scratchy connection to some of the prior boys who have been past victims of The Grabber. They all have different ideas about how Finney might be able to escape. There is place to dig a tunnel, or to break through the wall into the back part of a freezer. Or maybe he can get up to the small window and pull away the grate. Or perhaps get past the evil masked killer if he is asleep and get out the front door. The supernatural manner in which this information is relayed to Finney is never explained, because it cannot be explained.


There are lots of investigations that are still going on. Detective Barnes continue to pump Gwen for anything useful in finding Finney, or any of the other boys. Gwen only says so much, because her dreams and visions are getting clearer, and she is out to explore on her own. There is a man named Max (played by James Ransone) that Barnes and his partner happen to meet. Max is very curious about the disappeared children, even though he is new in town. Max is starting to get a hunch, and that hunch means he is closer to the truth than he knows.


The Grabber is getting more and more agitated with Finney. Finney is not acting like the other boys and playing along with The Grabber’s dangerous games. He shows he is agitated by wearing different masks. Each mask is slightly odd and off-putting, and that is the way likes it. Finney cannot see past The Grabber’s mask, but he can see that his prior victims have contacted Finney for a reason. Even from beyond the grave, these dead boys want a final revenge on the perverted murderer known as ‘The Grabber’. They know that with Finney — they just might get that chance.


“The Black Phone” is an effective thriller, with some limited gore and jump scares. But it has enough suspense and tension that it will keep you on the edge of your seat. It is adapted by from a short story by Joe Hill (Steven King’s  just as talented son). The screenplay is by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. They have done other scary movies before, and they have not lost that touch.


The cast is very well-suited for this movie. Ethan Hawke is creepy as can be. Mason Thames (Finney) and Madeleine McGraw (Gwen) are both young actors, but they have a superb screen presence. There are quite limited locations, a creepy basement dungeon, and the Shaw’s house, and the high school. But the movie makes the best use of these in every scene.


“The Black Phone” introduces audiences to the most horrific thing:  an old-fashioned, wall-mounted, rotary-dial telephone. That and the serial killer who lives upstairs…



The Black Phone

Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Screenplay by: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Based on: “The Black Phone” (by Joe Hill)
Starring: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, James Ransone, Ethan Hawke
Cinematography: Brett Jutkiewicz
Edited by: Frédéric Thoraval
Music by: Mark Korven
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release date: June 24, 2022
Length: 102 minutes
MPAA rating: R for violence, bloody images, language and some drug use.
Genre: Thriller, Horror


Genres Comedy, Adventure


Rating contributor: JMcNaughton tmc

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