The year is 1978, and the streets of a seemingly sleepy Denver suburb is prowled by a serial killer nicknamed The Grabber, who mockingly leaves black balloons in the places of abduction. We follow the daily life of siblings Finney and Gwen, who lives with their abusive alcoholic father. School is tough on the timid boy Finney, where he is frequently bullied and harassed, only occasionally getting saved by his badass friend Bruce. However, one day Bruce is abducted by The Grabber, and Gwen starts having psychic dreams regarding his kidnapping. Only days later, Finney encounters what at first appears to be a clumsy magician who needs his help, but when the boy notices the black balloons inside the magician’s truck, it’s already too late and he becomes another abductee. When Finney wakes up, he finds himself trapped in a small soundproofed basement, with a disconnected black phone hanging on the wall. His abductor is the terrifying mask-wearing “Grabber”, who appears to be playing some kind of game which Finney knows will eventually lead to his death…just like with all the other kids that were kidnapped and murdered before him. Unexpectedly, help comes from the ominous, disconnected black phone which starts ringing and gives Finney phone calls from the world of the dead…
The Black Phone is directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil), and is based on a short story by Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son). After Deliver Us From Evil, which was released on 2014, Scott was absent from horror movie directing for a while as he was working on the Doctor Strange movie, so his comeback into this genre was long awaited. The story starts off a little slowly as we get to know the youths and prepare for the inevitable, and once Finney gets kidnapped a lot of the movie unfolds mainly in the bare-bones basement as he tries to escape and avoid playing the serial killer’s sadistic game, aided by the previous victims who contacts him through the black phone. There are some creepy scenes and the setting is atmospheric enough, although it never really breaks the surface of becoming truly scary. It is mostly the performances that really carries the movie, especially the child actors, and of course, the serial killer himself.
The Grabber’s creepy masks are made up of several parts, each exposing different portions of his face and giving a variation in expressions. The mask was designed by makeup artist Tom Savini. Ethan Hawke plays The Grabber in his first villain role (in stark contrast to the worried family man he plays in Sinister), and he does an admirably good job on portraying the crazy and unpredictable serial killer with his various facial expressions portrayed through the use of masks, body language and tone of voice. The Grabber is someone who obviously can’t be reasoned with, and while we do not really get to know all that much about him, that actually adds to the creep factor. And while the supernatural elements aren’t even remotely scary, they help powering up the direction of the story, working more as part of the suspense component rather than the horror. We root for the boy trapped in the creepy basement, and the ghosts who try to help him.
Overall, The Black Phone is a welcome horror comeback for Scott Derrickson. It’s not really a very unique or original movie, but it’s a solid and tense horror thriller that’s well worth a watch.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Country & year: USA, 2022
Actors: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Davies, E. Roger Mitchell, Troy Rudeseal, James Ransone, Miguel Cazarez Mora, Rebecca Clarke, J. Gaven Wilde, Spencer Fitzgerald