I saw this film opening weekend but it took me a couple of weeks to fully process. It’s that good. Scott Derrickson and Ethan Hawke have proven themselves to be a terrifying combination. The Black Phone was their second time working together. Sinister was the first.
Based on the short story by Joe Hill, The Black Phone follows two children in the 70’s as their town is terrorized by a serial killer who kidnaps small children. Though none of the missing kids have been found, many assume they won’t ever be found alive. Finn (Mason Thames) and his feisty sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) navigate being bullied at school and an abusive, alcoholic father at home as The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) drives his creepy windowless van around the neighborhood. The kids’ father, Terrance (Jeremy Davies) tries to stomp out Gwen’s ability to see things from the future in her dreams, something her mother had and made her a little nuts.
When Finn is kidnapped and locked in the basement of The Grabber’s home, the phone on the wall rings but only he can hear it. The boys who previously were killed by the Grabber give Finn hints on how to survive. Meanwhile, Gwen goes to the police with information about the kidnappings. She knows things that have never been released to the press, so the police begin asking her for help.
I won’t give away any more than that because this film is unrelenting and completely unpredictable. As soon as you think you know where it is headed, it zags in another direction. The Black Phone is dark, profane, tragic and so damned good that I wanted to watch it again right after I finished it.
Ethan Hawke is stellar as The Grabber, but it is Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw that really shine in this film. Mason brings vulnerable strength under unimaginable circumstances and Madeleine has such great comedic timing with her lines that she pulls you into her performance with ease. Jeremy Davies is good too, though his character’s abusive nature is hard to watch.
I give this film 4 out of 4 stars. I didn’t ever think Scott Derrickson would outdo Sinister which ranks in my top five all time favorite horror movies. But he has. The Black Phone is brilliant.