Time: 103 Minutes
Age Rating: Horror, violence, domestic violence & offensive language
Mason Thames as Finney Blake
Madeleine McGraw as Gwen
Ethan Hawke as The Grabber
Jeremy Davies as Terrence
James Ransone as Max
Director: Scott Derrickson
Finney Shaw is a shy but clever 13-year-old boy who’s being held in a soundproof basement by a sadistic, masked killer. When a disconnected phone on the wall starts to ring, he soon discovers that he can hear the voices of the murderer’s previous victims — and they are dead set on making sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen to Finney.
The Black Phone was one of my most anticipated movies of 2022. It would be director Scott Derrickson’s return to horror for the first time in 8 years, it has a simple but interesting premise, and Ethan Hawke as the main villain. While it could’ve been better, I did enjoy it overall.
The plot takes its time, but for it was, it is an effectively creepy and dark horror movie. I am aware that The Black Phone is based on a short story, but feels a lot like a Stephen King story; bullies, alcoholic fathers, scary killers with masks, vague and unexplained supernatural elements, the only thing missing was it being set in Maine. The story is very familiar and cliched for a horror movie. Familiarity isn’t necessarily bad, but even if you don’t watch the incredibly revealing trailer, at a certain point, it becomes obvious how the rest of the plot is going to play out. But if you read it as a Stephen King throwback, then it plays a little better. It is fairly entertaining, and it was funnier than I expected it to be. However, the script is a bit of a mixed bag. For its nasty premise, it almost felt a little too tame. It could’ve gone darker when it came to the serial killer stuff, and from Sinister we know that Derrickson is capable of going there. However, my biggest issue is that much of the script felt underdeveloped and was missing something, it needed to expand or elaborate on some things. It juggles multiple different threads, including trauma, kidnappings, and psychic elements, but none of them are really handled that greatly. There are some supernatural elements, from the psychic dreams of the main character’s sister, to the voices of the killer’s victims calling on the black phone in the room that he’s trapped in. Not that I wanted a big info dump on everything, but they needed some level of explanation, at least more than what we got. As it was, the supernatural elements did take away from the real world setting and themes that the movie had previously established. The aspect involving the killer called “The Grabber” is also flawed, mainly with his motive. Initially you think that there is more to the Grabber’s deal than just killing children, given that he keeps his victims down in the basement. However, that’s not the case, and we don’t learn anything about him. So you’re waiting in anticipation for a backstory or reveal that just never comes. The third act doesn’t resolve things that well either; the ending is really abrupt and the last scene is particularly tact on and out of place.
Ethan Hawke is menacing as The Grabber. Most of the time we don’t see his face, we usually just see him with a mask on. I understand why they used him sparingly, but I think we needed a lot more Hawke screentime. Jeremy Davies is also good in his part. However, it is the kids who stand out the most. Mason Thames is good as the lead child who is captured and is trying to escape, and Madeleine McGraw is especially great as the sister who receives the psychic visions.
Scott Derrickson once again is very good at directing a movie, especially a horror. I like the visual look of the movie, especially in how it places itself in the 70s. The dream sequences had a distinct look to it, reminiscent to the home tapes from Sinister. I liked them all except one scene involving pinball which was very out of place. The scares aren’t special but were effective enough. They didn’t feel like cliched jump scares and it was refreshing for a recent horror movie to not be so heavy and reliant on jump scares. Finally, the Grabber masks that Hawke wears are very memorable and unique.
The Black Phone has its problems and considering the potential it had, it was a little disappointing. It felt like it needed a few more drafts to flesh out some of the elements that it introduced. However, Scott Derrickson’s direction is effective, and the performances are great, and they make up for much of the issues.