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‘The Black Phone’ is a 2022 supernatural horror film co-written and directed by Scott Derrickson. It stars Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, and Ethan Hawke. ‘The Black Phone’ originated from a short story by Joe Hill in ’20th Century Ghosts.’
‘The Black Phone’: Summary and Set-Up
In Denver, Colorado in 1978, a string of kidnappings have taken place at the hands of ‘The Grabber.’ The city is on high alert, including siblings Finney and Gwen Blake. Both kids live with their alcoholic and abusive father, only adding to the stress of everyday life. One day while walking home, Finny is confronted by a mysterious-looking man asking if he’d like to see a magic trick. Within seconds the man is revealed to be The Grabber, who quickly abducts Finny and transports him to his hideout. Finny awakens in the basement of The Grabber, with nothing more than an old mattress on the ground to cling to. After several uncomfortable altercations, Finny notices a disconnected black phone on the wall. The phone is soon revealed to be a gateway to conversations with previous Grabber victims, leading Finny to his only chance of escape.
The Director’s Chair
Director Scott Derrickson isn’t a stranger to the horror genre as he’s quietly built an impressive resume over the last 25 years. From ‘Hellraiser: Inferno,’ to ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ and ‘Sinister,’ Derrickson has become one of the more consistent horror directors. In ‘The Black Phone,’ Derrickson creates an atmosphere that transports the audience back to 1978 in its cinematography and score. The colors are muted to black, brown, yellow, and orange to help paint the city of Denver as dated. When the film shifts to the basement of The Grabber, the visuals scream black, blue, and green. This color change dims the atmosphere to a more claustrophobic feel. The film runs at just over 100 minutes, with the pace quick and tight that never overstays its welcome. The suspense of the film builds towards a more than satisfying conclusion.
The Black Phone: Performances
Ethan Hawke was apprehensive to take on the role of The Grabber as he’s pushed back from embracing a villain on screen. Though he was hesitant, Hawke shines as the main antagonist. Hawke presents the villain with an uncomfortable and mood-shifting sense of evil. The Grabber is scary on the surface because he represents a realistic threat, one which has remained true for decades. The masks worn by The Grabber were designed and created by special FX legend Tom Savini and his team. The menacing and emotion-filled face overs only solidify his presence.
While the performances in ‘The Black Phone’ are stellar across the board, two really stand out. Mason Thomas plays Finny, who the audience follows and lives vicariously through during the entirety of the film. From failing on the pitching mound in the opening scene to his struggle to escape the clutch of The Grabber, Thomas delivers as a sympathetic figure.
In contrast, the role of Finny’s sister Gwen stole the show by Madeleine McGraw. McGraw’s Gwen has an edge to her and she’s wise beyond her years, whether it’s dropping humorous curse words or coming to the aid of her brother during a fight. The most significant scene that stands out for Gwen occurs while she is taking a beating by her father. With tears in her eyes, McGraw conveys the emotion of Gwen in heartwrenching fashion as she stands up to her father. Gwen is clearly carrying years of abuse on her shoulders and let it all out in one memorable moment.
We soon learn that Gwen is not just an ordinary girl. She has psychic abilities to see the past and future through her dreams. Gwen is able to work with the police to uncover the hideout of The Grabber. Meanwhile, Finny’s conversations with the ghosts of previous victims via the black phone help him formulate a plan. In his final conversation, Finny speaks to the ghost of his friend Robin, who was taken earlier. Robin motivates him enough to take the final step in confronting The Grabber.
After setting up a trap, Finny tricks The Grabber into killing his own brother before falling and breaking his ankle. Finny kills The Grabber by breaking his neck with a phone cord before exiting the house. As Finny leaves through the front door, he’s reunited with Gwen and his apologetic father. At the same time, the police arrive and find the bodies of the previous victims after following Gwen’s lead, who were revealed to be in the basement of the house across the street.
‘The Black Phone’: Final Thoughts and Rating
‘The Black Phone’ is a tightly woven film that hits the mark from beginning to end. It’s a somewhat familiar story that won’t break new ground, however, it’s handled in such a way that Scott Derrickson was able to keep it fresh. The performances were the film’s anchor, as Ethan Hawke breaks from the standard. The impressive cinematography and score push the film ahead of most in the genre this year. 84 percent of critics and 89 percent of audiences approve on Rotten Tomatoes, as ‘The Black Phone’ proves to be a hit. While it might lack traditional scares, ‘The Black Phone’ comes highly recommended as one of the best of 2022. Rating: 4.5 out of 5.