The Black Phone

The film “The Black Phone” opens in Denver in 1978. A baseball game is in progress The pitcher on the mound is thirteen year old Finney (Mason Thames). He needs one more out to close the game, but Bruce (Tristan Pravong), the formidable hitter for the opposing team, is not going to permit Finney to have his victory. The homerun hit by Bruce will be a short lived moment of happiness. The pain Finney feels having lost the game, will, in the near future, be an afterthought. Both teenagers will be contending with something, rather someone, who will soon command all of their attention.     

The children of Denver are on high alert. A person, the press has dubbed The Grabber, has been abducting teenage boys. Detective Wright (E. Roger Mitchell), and Detective Miller (Troy Rudeseal), have few leads. Unbeknownst to the members of law enforcement, The Grabber drives around in a black van, with the word abracadabra, printed on it. He uses his job as a magician to lure children into helping him, before submerging them in an entanglement of black balloons, and using a spray that renders them unconscious. The character is portrayed, in a chilling manner, by four time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke (Training Day). He completely embodies the role of the maniacal murderer.

Finney lives with his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), and  their abusive, alcoholic father, Terrence, portrayed by BAFTA and Emmy winner Jeremy Davies (Justified). Things aren’t much better for him at school, where he is frequently bullied. As if that weren’t bad enough, it gets worse when he is abducted by The Grabber. When Finney awakes, he is laying on a mattress on the floor of a dark, concrete, and what he will soon learn, is a soundproofed basement. There are some rolled up rugs, and a toilet. The only other thing in the basement is a disconnected, black rotary phone, hanging on the wall. Every time The Grabber comes to see Finney, his face is partially obscured by a variety of different macabre looking masks.  Furthermore, The Grabber displays different moods while interacting with Finney. He attempts to be charming one moment, only to turn sadistic the next. The Grabber also modulates his voice depending on his mood. (As an aside: The masks Hawke wore in the film were designed by, amongst other talents, special effects guru Tom Savini).    

At school, Finney sometimes had his friend Robin (Miquel Cazarez Mora), to fight his battles for him. Now he will have to stand up on his own if he hopes to survive. Well, not entirely. The phone, which shouldn’t be working, helps Finney in his efforts to outwit The Grabber. Even though it is disconnected, when Finney picks it up, he hears voices of The Grabber’s victims, who met their end in the basement. Furthermore, his sister Gwen is attempting to help him. She inherited their late mother’s gift of being able to see visions of future events in her dreams. Gwen is desperately trying to come up with an image that will lead to where Finney is being held. Can the voices in the phone help guide Finney to safety? Will Gwen be able to see his location in her dream in time, so she can let the police know, before The Grabber kills again? Those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

“The Black Phone” was directed by Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange). In addition, Derrickson co-wrote the screenplay for the film with C. Robert Cargill (Sinister). The screenplay was based on Joe Hill’s short story of the same name in his book “20th Century Ghosts.” The book was published by PS Publishing in October of 2005. The film premiered on September 25, 2021 at the Fantastic Fest, which is held annually in Austin, Texas. Parts horror, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of  103 minutes.

The film is well paced and the atmosphere was excellent, and helped to add to the overall sense of dread of what was transpiring on screen. Exposition as to the how and the why of the black phone was thankfully avoided, because I think it would have distracted from the movie. Suspense builds throughout the film, as Gwen, and the police attempt to figure out who The Grabber is, and where Finney is being held, before it is too late. The performances, as aforementioned, by Hawke, and especially from the film’s young leads were spot on. Another aspect of the movie that I thought was worthy of credit, is that it never depended on jump scares or gore to help advance the narrative. Overall, a solid horror film, that will more than likely be enjoyed by fans of the genre, and those seeking a thrilling, under two hours of escapist cinema.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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