The Black Phone hit me hard in my suburban parent gut. The story revolves around a serial kidnapper the kids dubbed The Grabber. In this quiet 1978 suburban town, The Grabber takes tween boys walking alone, or right off their bikes in the middle of their paper route. No one knows what happens to the boys, they just disappear, replaced with missing posters, their faces plastered all over the neighborhood. A creepy story like this is enough to scare any parent, so much so for me that I had an extensive stranger-danger talk with my older boy, complete with a few defensive maneuvers.
After establishing The Grabber, the quaint town, the harsh realities these kids face and the sister’s vague psychic abilities, Finney (Mason Thames) is taken. He comes to in a dark, barren basement, on a grungy bare mattress. There’s a barred window, a toilet, a locked door and a black phone hanging on the wall. Finney tries the phone to call for help, but it is silent. His masked captor, who visits periodically and lingers in a creepy, menacing way, tells him that the phone doesn’t work. Never has.
But then, once Finney is alone, the phone rings. One of The Grabber’s previous victims is on the other end. They give Finney cryptic advice and share how they tried to escape. Each time the phone rings, it’s a different dead boy, in the order they were taken, trying to help Finney and trying to avenge their own death. During some calls we even see the dead boy talking to Finney, a creepy specter giving this horror movie vital visuals to its supernatural element.
As far as horror movie baddies go, Ethan Hawke’s performance as The Grabber is top notch and one of my favorite performances of his. In Finney’s kidnapping scene, his casual clumsiness disarms the boy so easily, even we’re drawn in a bit. Hawke seems perfectly at home being so casually creepy. One of my favorite moments was when Finney wakes up to find The Grabber just watching him sleep. It can be hard to create a character behind a mask without using it as a crutch, but Hawke does an amazing job working with the mask to enhance his menace. I really hope to find that creepy mask at Spirit Halloween.
I loved The Black Phone and think it is a great new horror film. It boasts a perfect balance between horrific reality and the scary supernatural. Young Thames’s performance is believable and makes us root for him against Hawke, who gives us a creepy character we love to hate. The perspectives between Finney and his sister round out this movie and perfectly unfold this terrifying mystery until the very end. Add The Black Phone to your spooky season watch list and then never walk alone again.
“Wanna see a magic trick?”