The Black Phone is a 2021 American supernatural horror film directed by Scott Derrickson and written by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, who both produced with Jason Blum. It is an adaptation of the 2004 short story of the same name by Joe Hill.
S P O I L E R S
The premise is uncomplicated. Set in 1978, The Black Phone follows Finney Blake (Mason Thames) as he navigates difficult teenage life events be it parental abuse or school bullying. On top of all that, there is a serial child abductor nicknamed “the Grabber” in his neighbourhood, who has already kidnapped several boys known to Finney.
Of course, eventually Finney is himself abducted by the Grabber (Ethan Hawke) and Finney is imprisoned in a stereotypical basement with a difference – on the wall there is a disconnected telephone. The black phone is the McGuffin, the inciting incident that begins Finney’s quest to escape from his fate. He gets phone calls from the Grabber’s previous victims, from the afterlife, apparently and they each give Finney advice as to surviving and escaping from the Grabber.
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In the meantime, Finney’s sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) is experiencing psychic dreams connected to Finney and the Grabber. The siblings’ abusive father mentions that their mother was “touched” – the implication being that they have inherited special powers. Ultimately, with a little help from his friends (from the Black Phone), Finney not only escapes the Grabber but eventually kills him as well!
To be honest, the characterisations on The Black Phone are paper-thin. They are virtually cyphers. While the performances of Thames, McGraw and Hawke are commendable, the characters are not particularly well written. The villain of the piece is not given a backstory whatsoever! It is difficult to invest any emotions into the siblings as they feel under-developed.
Tone and Style
Joe Hill is of course the son of famed horror writer Stephen King, and the long shadow of King haunts The Black Phone. From the 1970s American suburban setting to the supernaturally powered teenagers, it’s all rather familiar tropes that seem routine and mundane. The Black Phone isn’t even scary at all! A major disappointment.
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