Review: The Black Phone

Blumhouse’s latest offering to horror fans is a creepy kidnapper story titled The Black Phone – a film based on a 2004 short story of the same name. The story is one part serial killer/unsolved mysteries, one part supernatural horror, and 100% terrifying.

Set in a small Colorado town in the late 70’s, The Black Phone follows Finney (Mason Thames) and his little sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) living in a town that’s had children go missing. After almost half a dozen kids have gone missing, the police and residents have no clue who is responsible for the missing children. Finney and the other kids have nicknamed the kidnapper The Grabber (Ethan Hawke).

After Finney is taken by The Grabber, he finds himself trapped in a soundproof basement with nothing but a bed, a toilet, a hopper window, and a black phone. The phone doesn’t work but has the ability to receive calls from the Grabber’s previous victims.

The previous victims give Finney information to help him plan an escape while Gwen uses the clues she’s given to find her brother before it’s too late.

The Black Phone’s premise is clever and really interesting. The story really draws you in gets you invested in Finney’s plans to escape. Most of the film takes place in the basement as Finney thinks of ways to escape. The rest of the film is focused on Gwen and her alcoholic abusive father (played by Jeremy Davies) dismissing her visions of The Grabber as just dreams.

Director Scott Derrickson (Doctor Stranger, Sinister) does a fantastic job building tension and delivering some pretty good jump scares. The audience doesn’t see the Grabber kill the previous victims. What you’re given is the Grabber in various creepy looking masks and what Finney is being told by the previous victims. The audience never see what the Grabber is up to when he’s not mocking and terrorizing Finney. It feels like he has a normal life outside of the kidnapping an killing. That only makes him more terrifying.

The mystery behind what the Grabber has planned for Finney also adds to the terror – it ignores the usual horror movie tropes and allows the audience to fill in the blanks with their own vivid imagination. We never learn why the Grabber started, what his end game is, and what he has planned. All the film focuses on is Finney’s kidnapping and his need to escape before he’s killed.

The star of the film is Madeleine McGraw as Gwen. She’s a fierce sister who curses like a sailor and willing to do anything to find her brother. If you ever get kidnapped, you’ll need someone like Gwen fighting for you. McGraw is in some of the film’s best scenes and delivers in each one – especially when she comes to her brother’s aid during a fight. Expect to see more of McGraw on your screens very soon.

Ethan Hawke’s hand/body movements are pretty creepy. He moves like a murderous mime while wearing a mask like he’s on his way to ritual sacrifice. The Grabber is really unnerving the type of villain that could anchor a horror movie franchise.

The Black Phone is one of the year’s best horror films. There have been serial killer kidnapper films in the past, yet The Black Phone feels fresh. The film is committed to telling its story through suspense, jump scares, cryptic phone calls, and various scary masks worn by The Grabber. The final 30 minutes will get plenty jumps and applause from horror fans. The Black Phone will leave you with an eerie feeling and remind you not to talk to strangers.

Grade: B+