The Black Phone
Starring Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw
The Black Phone is an enthralling horror film directed by Scott Derrickson and based on a short story by Joe Hill (Stephen King’s oldest son).
In 1978, Finney Blake (Mason Thames) is abducted by The Grabber (Ethan Hawke), a mask-wearing serial killer, and receives mysterious calls from an unplugged phone in his cell.
The Black Phone is a taut, chilling experience with just enough of a supernatural layer to enrich a story about wits and survival.
The film’s tone balances the claustrophobia and despair of Finney’s situation with an engrossing air of mystery, resourcefulness and hints from beyond the grave. The Black Phone has one of the tightest horror screenplays in years: every single plot-point returns in clever and satisfying ways later on, and Finney’s efforts to escape dovetail smoothly with his sister Gwen’s (Madeleine McGraw) quest to find him, aided on her end by cryptic visions.
The first act features brilliant (if disquieting) symbolism about domestic abuse. Finney’s dark family life steels us for the kidnapping, as his abusive father Terrence (Jeremy Davies) and the Grabber both alternate between cruelty and kindness and hold their subjects of care in scary situations they can’t easily get out of.
The Black Phone is also very efficient with its world-building. As with After Yang’s organic vision of a sci-fi future, The Black Phone doesn’t need to explain the Grabber’s identity and background, how his victims are talking to Finney or how Gwen’s visions work. The gripping plot presents these elements entirely at face-value; any more detail could detract from the phenomenal tension.
The Black Phone is a masterwork of suspenseful, ingenious horror, and is playing in most Victorian cinemas.
– Seth Lukas Hynes