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Review: ‘The Black Phone’ Keeps You on the Edge of Your Seat

Review: ‘The Black Phone’ Keeps You on the Edge of Your Seat

Blumhouse makes some of my favorite movies to watch with my siblings because we love horror films. 

The Blumhouse company has produced iconic genre film franchises like Halloween, Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and The Purge. They have produced culture-changing films like Get Out and BlacKkKlansman. Now, they give us The Black Phone, a film I knew I wanted to see right away the first time I saw the trailer. 

The film did not disappoint. You don’t know how it will end. You start to draw conclusions about what is actually happening. The film keeps you on the edge of your seat. What starts off giving Stand By Me vibes finishes strong with a story all its own.  

The Black Phone is directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister) and based on the short story by Joe Hill. Already, a prime combination. Joe Hill has written some cool ones like NOS4A2 and Locke & Key. The screenplay is written by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill (Doctor Strange). 

The film at its core is about a smart 13-year-old boy who gets abducted by a sadistic serial killer of children and is locked in a soundproof basement. The basement has a broken black phone that rings with the killer’s previous victims on the other end. They try to help the boy escape so he doesn’t become another name in the newspaper. The film stars Mason Thames (Walker) in his first feature film role, Madeleine McGraw (Secrets of Sulphur Springs), Jeremy Davies (Sleepy Hollow, TV Series), James Ransone (It Chapter Two), and Ethan Hawke (Moon Knight).

The last horror film I saw four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke in was The Purge (2013). He was a victim then. Now we see him in what could easily be considered the most terrifying role in his career. Ethan Hawke plays The Grabber. It is a chilling performance, complete with masks and a personality disorder. There is no gray area when it comes to The Grabber. He is evil. There is no room for an explanation of why he does what he does — a fact left out that makes it even more chilling to watch. You don’t know what he will do next. You sit there wondering, why would a man do this to kids, to young boys? Only bad thoughts. Hawke portrays a character that makes this horror film feel like it could happen to anyone. Children are kidnapped all the time. Every 40 seconds, a child goes missing or is abducted in the United States. It’s a scary story where the villain isn’t the supernatural element. Hawke does a great job of making us think we are witnessing something truly evil.

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There is an underlying tone of mental illness in The Black Phone. Finny (Thames) and Gwen (McGraw) have a family history of mental illness. There is a murky link between a mental illness that is bad and a mental illness that can be spun as supernatural-like and seen as a positive. Gwen has dreams that sometimes come true, but can it save her brother in his time of need? Finny is hearing voices on a phone that does not work. But his time in the basement is almost like therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to be precise. 

CBT treatment can involve efforts to change behavioral patterns with strategies like facing one’s fears instead of avoiding them, using role-playing to prepare for potentially problematic interactions with others, and learning to calm one’s mind and relax one’s body. It is also used to change thinking patterns with strategies like gaining a better understanding of the behavior and motivation of others, using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations, and learning to develop a greater sense of confidence in one’s abilities. The Black Phone is set in the 1970s, a time when cognitive and behavioral approaches were combined resulting in cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s masterfully incorporated into the film.

A theme in The Black Phone is family and, more importantly, the ties that bind us. The values, beliefs, characteristics, etc. that are shared between people can and often do result in a unique and unbreakable connection. Finny and Gwen are brother and sister who have that connection. They come from a complicated home. They are bullied, beaten, and almost loners, save for one friend, but they have each other’s backs constantly. The relationship portrayed on screen makes it hard to think they are not brother and sister in real life and that this is just for the cameras. Their chemistry is perfect. I could watch these two young actors all day.

It’s always so hard watching child abduction films because I have a gaggle of kids in my family. The idea of one of them going missing is beyond something I want to think about. Supernatural I can deal with — evil people are another story. There are rules to the supernatural. Serial murderers have no rules (unless you’re Ghostface from the Scream franchise. That killer is all about the slasher film rules). The Black Phone follows no rules or gimmicks. It’s just horrifying. Entertaining, but horrifying. Viewer beware. 

The Black Phone will hit theaters on June 24, 2022. 

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