The Black Phone Review: A Haunting and Well-Crafted Horror Film


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After director Scott Derrickson left Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness due to creative differences, Derrickson and writer C. Robert Cargill teamed up to adapt a short story by Joe Hill. After a premiere at Fantastic Fest, audiences everywhere are getting treated to The Black Phone, a supernatural horror film featuring a kidnapped child and a telephone that can communicate with the dead. Nothing quite beats the feeling of a good summer horror flick, and this movie delivers nearly everything you would want from the genre.

The Black Phone is a suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat thriller featuring strong direction from Derrickson. Blumhouse films can be pretty hit-or-miss, and this one is a hit, starting with its opening scene. It isn’t scary in the traditional sense, doing a better job of leaving things to your imagination. The film involves a series of missing children taken by The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) and introduces us to the protagonist, Finney (Mason Thames). Finney lives with his sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), and his father, Terrence (Jeremy Davies).


Derrickson and Cargill deliver an excellent first act that sets up the world of a 1970s Denver suburb before the horrifying inciting incident. Finney and Gwen share an alcoholic, abusive father, and Finney’s school life is plagued by violence from bullies. He is quickly established as a character who cannot stand up for himself, which is why the screenplay forces him down a path where he must learn how to. After running into The Grabber in the street claiming to be a magician, Finney is kidnapped and trapped in a basement with nothing but a bed and a ringing telephone on the wall.

From here, The Black Phone goes down an ominous path, combining a contained survival thriller with supernatural elements. The unsettling musical score and sound design complement the never-ending sense of dread as Finney is put into a situation where he must find an escape. Much of the film is spent in a confined location as you root for the hero to escape. From a storytelling standpoint, the movie stands out in how it builds the backstory and reveals the twists piece by piece. Derrickson takes his time to rip off a bandage that reveals a layered, suspenseful narrative.

Hawke’s performance is phenomenal. Lately, Hollywood has given us visits from Michael Myers, Ghostface, and the forgettable villain from last year’s There’s Someone Inside Your House. However, The Grabber is an antagonist you won’t soon forget, as he is a new, uniquely masked killer. His frightening mask changes depending on his mood, and you feel his menace in every inch of his presence. Hawke manages to strike fear through his voice as every child’s worst nightmare come to life.

The principal cast members deliver excellent performances as well. Thames and McGraw are two child actors who carry much of the screen time and pull off many complex, emotional scenes. The film features many uncomfortable scenes that include violence with children, and while it may not be easy to watch, you have to hand it to the actors for selling these situations enough to make them believable. The only performance that doesn’t quite work is James Ransone as Max, a character investigating the location of The Grabber. His performance feels like it belongs in a different movie, tonally distant from the rest of the film.

Part of the intrigue of The Grabber is the mystery behind him and the fact that he is an irredeemable evil with no purpose behind his despicable actions. While some may have hoped for more characterization from him, he serves as a fantastic antagonist in The Black Phone, a movie that does a lot with its simple, thrilling concept. The film may not offer many scares beyond the overall heart-racing tone, but the jump scares are well-crafted, and the final act is even better. Overall, this is a triumphant return to the horror genre from a talented director.

SCORE: 7/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7 equates to “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.

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