Movie Review: The Black Phone

Author Stephen King has had a successful career delighting fans of horror, suspense, the supernatural, fantasy and more with his many books, and film and TV adaptations. It’s not surprising, then, that his son, Joe Hill, might have learned a thing or two about the business from his dad over the years. Indeed, Hill has won a number of awards for his own writing, and some of his work has been adapted to TV and the big screen as well. One of them, THE BLACK PHONE, which is based on a short story of the same name that was published in 2004, has been picked up by horror film producer Blumhouse and directed by Scott Derrickson (DR. STRANGE; DELIVER US FROM EVIL). With that combination, you know it will be a scary joy ride.

It’s 1978 and quiet but smart 13-year-old Finney Shaw (Mason Thames, TV’s WALKER) is living with his alcoholic father and younger sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP; AMERICAN SNIPER; TV’s SECRETS OF SULPHUR SPRINGS) in a modest, working class suburb of Denver. On his way home from school one day, he gets abducted by a masked man whom all the kids refer to as The Grabber (Ethan Hawke, STOCKHOLM; FIRST REFORMED; BOYHOOD), and thrown into a soundproofed basement where no one can hear him. Next to his mattress is a black phone that has been disconnected. However, when it rings, Finney discovers that he can hear the voices of the man’s previous victims who are all dead. Each of them provides Finney with a clue on how to escape and Finney must work fast to put the pieces of the puzzle together before he becomes The Grabber’s next victim. Meanwhile, Gwen is doing all she can to find where her brother is.

Fans of the TV’s STRANGER THINGS will find a lot to like with THE BLACK PHONE. The teen actors carry the film with their strong performances, and none more so than 13-year-old McGraw who gets all the film’s best lines which she delivers with relish. Hawke, who normally plays nice or, at worst, conflicted, characters, is downright creepy here and plays a worthy villain, though I would have preferred to learn something about The Grabber’s motivation for abducting young boys. (It is hinted at at one point.) It’s also curious that for a neighbourhood that has already seen a few teenagers disappear, everyone is rather chill about it. I’m pretty sure Neighbourhood Watch existed back then. The mood, too, wasn’t as dark as perhaps it needed to be with the film’s few jump scares coming late in story and being similar to each other. All that being said though, THE BLACK PHONE is still a fairly effective joy ride. Fans of the nostalgic horror/supernatural genre won’t go home disappointed.

THE BLACK PHONE opens in Hong Kong on Wednesday (June 22nd).

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