The Black Phone is the latest Horror movie from the mind of Scott Derrickson, the man behind Sinister and the MCU’s Doctor Strange. An adaptation of the 2004 short story of the same name from Joe Hill. The Black Phone is set in a suburban town in Colorado, where a kidnapper named ‘The Grabber’ is on the loose and at large. When Finney Shaw becomes his sixth victim, things suddenly take a turn. Finney, once locked in a soundproof basement, starts taking advice on how to escape the grips of The Grabber from previous victims via a disconnected black phone. Meanwhile, outside the confines of The Grabber’s basement, Finney’s sister, with the help of her physic dreams, is on the hunt for her lost brother.
I try to avoid trailers as much as possible in this era as the spoilers are endless, and my overall enjoyment largely diminishes from viewing them. Unfortunately for me, my no trailer before the movie mantra began after watching the trailer to The Black Phone. Basically, if you have seen the trailer for The Black Phone, then you have seen the whole movie. It is just a 102-minute version of the trailer. The questions I had going in are the same questions I left with. In fact, I left with more questions than I had going in. Why was Finney able to hear the previous victims through this disconnected phone? What is up with his sister’s physic dreams, and why were they all related to The Grabber? Between the elongated trailer aspect, the unanswered questions and my hype going in, I am extremely underwhelmed. I think my biggest problem is the potential that this movie had. It had so many redeeming qualities: a fantastic cast, a haunting score and some majestic cinematography. Instead of being in my top 10 for the year, it sits bang in the middle with the rest of the average 2022 releases.
It played out more like a thriller than a horror and could have benefited from a few more jump scares rather than relying on tension and suspense. Full of potential for a lot more gore. Gore and violence which would have done nothing but heighten the stakes and make us fear much more for Finney. As for The Grabber, a bit of back story to flesh out the character wouldn’t have gone a miss. Ethan Hawke’s mask was magnificent and menacing; with each alteration, we started to see a different side to the character. I feel like this could have been expanded on more, and once again just felt like missed potential.
One of the main reasons I was so hyped going into the movie was the prospect of seeing Ethan Hawke in a villainous role. I have always looked at him as ‘the good guy’, so I was extremely excited to see how far he would take his performance. The Grabber came off completely unhinged, you could never tell what he was going to do next, and you felt Finney was always in danger during his captivity. Hawke was electric, and this performance was nothing like we have seen from him, but his performance wasn’t the crowning jewel of the film. That award goes to Madeleine McGraw, who played Finney’s sister Gwen. She was an absolute scene-stealer who elevated the movie every time she was on screen. Mason Thames, who played Finney, was also terrific. In fact, the acting from all the child actors was of an extremely high level. The acting from the predominately child cast was one of my concerns going in, so I was happy to see so much young acting talent on screen. Whenever I see a young actor command the screen the way McGraw did, I am in awe. To have that much screen presence at that age is truly remarkable—one to watch for the future.
Picking up The Black Phone is advised but once is probably more than enough.