The Black Phone

The Black Phone

The Black Phone

After being abducted by a child killer and locked in a soundproof basement, a 13-year-old boy starts receiving calls on a disconnected phone from the killer’s previous victims.

A teenager kidnapped by a serial killer receives phone calls from the ghosts of the killer's victims in . Finney () is a 13-year-old boy who is bullied at school and subjected at home to violent outbursts by his alcoholic father, Terrance (). One day, Finney is taken after school by The Grabber (), a serial killer who has been tormenting the town. Locked in The Grabber's soundproof basement, Finney is surprised when a disconnected black telephone begins ringing, which allows Finney to communicate with the spirits of The Grabber's previous victims, who each give Finney cryptic hints about how to escape.

The Black Phone is a new horror film by director and co-writer Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Doctor Strange), based on the short story of the same name by Joe Hill (Horns). The film takes place in a small town which has been tormented for months by a serial killer known only as The Grabber, played by Ethan Hawke sporting several freakish masks. Shortly before he becomes the latest kidnapping victim, Finney's sister Gwen () has a possible premonition about The Grabber, which befuddled the investigating police detectives Wright (E. Roger Mitchell) and Miller (Troy Rudeseal), who also receive supposed leads from an obsessed man named Max (). Gwen's repeating premonitions, and Finney's ghostly phone calls with The Grabber's victims offer Finney the best chance at surviving his ordeal.

The Black Phone is notable because it marks the first time in his career that Ethan Hawke played a villain, even though his villainous turn in the recent Disney+ series Moon Knight ended up getting released first. Hawke spends most of the film wearing various devil masks, which sport different expressions based on his mood. Hawke does a good job making the character very creepy and unsettling, even in The Black Phone's somewhat slow-paced first act, where the character is only seen in the background.

On top of being a horror film about a child serial killer, The Black Phone also features a central supernatural element, which includes several jump-scares, as the ghosts of The Grabber's victims suddenly appear as Finney talks to them on the titular black phone. In addition, similar to the snuff films in Sinister, The Black Phone features a Super-8 style backstory for each of the victims, representing the premotions dreamed by Finney's sister Gwen. Each of these dreams features visual clues to help Gwen locate The Grabber's house before it is too late.

While The Black Phone probably won't leave you as shaken to your core as Sinister, it is still a solid horror film featuring a creepy and unsettling villainous turn for Ethan Hawke.

Trailer for The Black Phone

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.