When a teen finds himself held captive by a masked assailant, his only hope for escape is an out-of-service phone that connects him to the other side. Starring Ethan Hawke and based on the Joe Hill short story, The Black Phone is a refreshing horror-thriller that delivers a creepy atmosphere and well-placed frights.
In 1978, a small suburban town is plagued by the disappearances of children by someone the locals have dubbed “The Grabber”. For Finney (Mason Thames) and his younger sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), the dangers of this kidnapper pale in comparison to the abuse they face at the hands of their alcoholic father.
As Gwen finds peace often by staying at a friend’s house, Finney finds himself as the latest victim of the mysterious man (Hawke). Trapped in a decrepit basement, he knows what fate he’ll likely face if he can’t find a way out.
He takes notice of an old rotary phone that’s had its cord cut. But despite that, he hears it ring. On the other line, the previous victims of The Grabber all with pieces of information to hopefully aid in Finney’s escape. But can he work fast enough to find a way out before he becomes just another missing child?
Directed by Scott Derrickson and written together with C. Robert Cargill, The Black Phone is a slow-burn thrill ride that packs plenty of surprises and great performances. Most impressively is Thames, who portrays a frightened, yet driven kid who uses his wits to get the upper hand against his captor. While veteran actor Hawke might be the draw for audiences, it’s the 14-year-old who will leave a lasting impression.
Though the film is more subdued than Derrickson and Cargill’s other flick Sinister, it still houses disturbing visuals and quite a few solid jump scares, which makes it a fun viewing experience altogether. I did think there could have been more done with Hawke, as it felt his screentime was rather minimal compared to the weight of The Grabber. There could have been more opportunities that would have allowed him to show off as this terrifyingly eccentric personality.
One of the film’s weak points was sadly James Ransone’s character. Sinister fans may be excited to see him pop up in this film, but he winds up feeling irrelevant to the story and brings unnecessary humor to an otherwise creepy plot. While he serves as some misdirect, I do wish he would have just not been there.
Still, The Black Phone is one of the best wide-released horror films to come out so far this year. The slow build at the start could be mistaken for some laggy storytelling at times, but its wild third act makes all the build-up worth it. A sequel would be very welcomed, especially one where we could perhaps see more of Hawke take the chaos to a new level.
The Black Phone is now in theaters