The Black Phone (2021)

The Black Phone
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writer: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Based on: Joe Hill‘s short story
Cast: 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, Jordan Isaiah White, Brady M. Ryan, Tristan Pravong, Jacob Moran, Brady Hepner, Banks Repeta
Seen on: 27.6.2022

Plot:
Finney (Mason Thames) and his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) live in a small town with their alcoholic father (Jeremy Davies). Boys have been going missing from the town for a while, and there are persistent rumors of The Grabber who nabs them. Finney finds that The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) is very real indeed when he himself is taken and locked into a sound-proof cellar. Desperate, Finney sees no way to escape. But then the disconnected phone on the wall starts ringing, and The Grabber’s previous victims start to give Finney advice. Meanwhile, Gwen tries everything to find Finney, and since she sometimes sees things in her dreams, she might actually be able to help.

The Black Phone is an atmospheric and very scary film that you shouldn’t look at too closely when it comes to plot.

The film poster showing The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) wearing his mask, his hands dissolving into a red liquid.

Ethan Hawke and that supercreepy mask definitely deserve a place in the horror hall of fame. The mask is extremely well-designed and tailor-made to haunt your nightmares, and Hawke has an absolutely threatening presence in the film that makes even the more outrageous character moments terrifyingly real. That there are some (well-made) jumpscares was practically unnecessary for the tension.

Character-wise, though, I found that Gwen stole the show. She’s mouthy and caring, desperate and unstoppable, smart and funny, and she really is the emotional core of the film. It’s more for her sake that we care for Finney than for his own. McGraw does an excellent job, albeit sometimes being tripped up by a script that is a little too on the nose. And James Ransone provides excellent comic relief.

The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) carrying Finney (Mason Thames) into his cell.

The biggest issue I had was that I found pretty much everybody more interesting than Finney, starting with Bruce (Tristan Pravong) in the very beginning. That the story makes it its mission to toughen Finney up, with the grand showdown making sure that he is strong enough to kill, is also a really problematic take on masculinity (instead of, say, finding the strength in his nerdy side or in what is perceived as his weakness). Things also come together a little too neatly with the various plans the other boys made before and the fact that The Grabber catches on to no part of these plans.

So, this is a film best enjoyed by not thinking about it, instead sinking yourself into the terror it inspires. If you’re able to do that, you’ll have a good time with it. I admit, that I had to work against my brain at points, but overall, I was content with getting scared by The Black Phone.

Finney (Mason Thames) and his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) walking home from school.

Summarizing: effective and atmospheric, as long as you don’t think too much about it.

1 thought on “The Black Phone (2021)

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