The Black Phone

The Black Phone

Amazon Film
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A 13-year-old boy, kidnapped and confined to a soundproof basement, begins to receive mystifying calls on The Black Phone, with the voices on the other end belonging to the captor's previous victims.

Although not the originator of the phrase, Issac Newton famously wrote in 1675 that his achievements were as a result of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’.

Many an adult fantasy is to start life again armed with the knowledge you have now. If you count yourself among that number then The Black Phone – a horror film in which past experiences may mean the difference between life and death – is calling your name.

What Is The Black Phone About?

Based on a 2004 short story by writer Joe Hill (Horns, N0S4A2), The Black Phone tells the story of a 1978 suburban town where children periodically go missing, never to be seen again.

Children fear the mysterious ‘Grabber’, and when the bullied Finney Blake loses one of his only friends he fears for the worst. But for Finney, the worst is yet to come.

Much like father Stephen King’s work, Hill paints a suburbia with hidden everyday horrors. Finney and sister Gwen have to endure their abusive alcoholic father, who forces Gwen to keep her oddly prophetic dreams to herself.

The run down streets and secrets behind closed doors speak to a world where apple pie and baseball are the band-aid of Americana, not the truth.

Mason Thames as young teenager Finney is superb. He embodies vulnerability, pride, and a sparkling intelligence; qualities that will serve him well once he is grabbed and locked in a dingy basement.

Over the course of the movie as the balance of power shifts between Finney and captor, Thames fills the screen with a weary determination despite his young years.

The Black Phone Official Trailer

Is The Black Phone Worth Watching?

Front and centre of the movie poster is the masked ‘Grabber’, played by Ethan Hawke (Juliet, Naked). His genuinely frightening mask seems to be modular, insofar as sometimes it’s a full face job; sometimes it’s the top half only; and sometimes just the bottom.

Hawke relies on terrifyingly loaded eyes and a faltering voice that sounds permanently on the edge of violence.

The short story trappings come through when adapted into feature length. Hawke’s Grabber is underdeveloped. He just about gets by on the strength of unsettling imagery and the strength of Hawke’s performance, but his mannerisms lack any kind of identifier beyond the typical.

By lacking in any hints of depth or background, he could be any number of killers from the Criminal Minds series.

Those turning to The Black Phone for out and out horror will be left wanting. The movie veers towards ‘character piece’ for the most part.

Finney’s survival depends on the voices that come out of an old rotary phone that the Grabber insists does not work. Piece by piece those who speak to Finney guide him, advise him, and encourage him.

This lends the movie a modular ‘call and response’ feel which favours a stripped bare threat of child murder above held tensions or outright scares.

On a scene by scene basis, The Black Phone is excellently acted and sculpted. The scenes between Thomas and Hawke sparkle. The downside is that it stagnates whenever the action moves away from them for some standard cop stuff or a dabble in visual projection powers.

Taken as a whole conversation, the push me pull you of The Black Phone lacks the ability to hold your breath in anticipation of its next proclamation. Yet each sentence, on its own, is a delight to experience.

The past may come back to haunt you, but if you learn to embrace it you can overcome the fear and tower above the scary monster holding you back.

Words by Mike Record

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  • Hawke And Thomas Are Superb
  • Visually Unsettling Imagery
  • An Interesting Central Concept


  • The Grabber Is Underdeveloped
  • Little Interest In The Scenes Outside The Basement
  • Lacks Worthwhile Tension


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