HOLLYWOOD—I have not seen a movie that unnerved me a ton in quite a long time America. “The Black Phone” is a thriller that will leave you on edge in the worst way possible and if you’re a parent it is absolutely your worst fear ever. Why? It involves a serial killer who is kidnapping teens in a suburb of Denver, that killer, who the kids have coined ‘The Grabber’ is portrayed by Ethan Hawke. This is a role I have NEVER seen from Hawke and it’s wickedly good. He is charming, yet vicious at the same time, it totally showcases the actor in a new light.
I particularly found the flick haunting because it reminded me of the real life case of a serial killer in Michigan who was kidnapping and killing children in the 70s. The Grabber rides around in a black van (kids have always been warned to be weary of such vehicles) and he utilizes stunts or things that should ultimately raise a red flag for kids, before he strikes. It is important to note ‘The Grabber’ is only kidnapping males and the audience has no reason to believe that anything sexual is happening as it’s never discussed; he is a sociopath, plain and simple America and that makes for a captivating villain in my honest opinion.
At the core this film deals with many thematic issues, alcoholism, child abuse, death, the supernatural, premonitions, bullying and its weaves itself in such a way that just works with perfection. With that said, our core characters are Finney Blake (Mason Thames) and Gwen Blake (Madeline McGraw), who are brother and sister. The bond that Finney and Gwen share is so powerful and resonates thru the screen. The audience without a doubt can sense these two are siblings who have each other’s backs, not only at school, but at home as they navigate to ensure they don’t push the buttons of their alcoholic and violent father.
Finney is a bit more reserved, quiet and doesn’t always step up to the plate when needed. Why? There is an intense scene where Gwen is getting a spanking from their father, who is on a spiral ever since his wife, who could see the future died. Gwen has those same gifts and it is something that her father wants to shake out of his daughter. Gwen’s gift is quite important in the movie which helps the authorities in their quest to nab this killer who doesn’t really have the parents on edge as much as they should be in this community; it is more so the kids who are worried about the big bad people.
As the audience already knows, Finney is kidnapped by ‘The Grabber’ who likes to play these mental games with his victims before he kills them. However, Finney has a bit of an edge because the supernatural element comes into play via the black phone. The phone doesn’t actually work, but Finney gets to speak to actual victims of the killer who deliver clues to Finney to ensure he doesn’t suffer a similar fate as them. The clues ultimately culminate as Finney is trying to think of every possible scenario to ensure his escape, but our killer is no idiot people.
The intensity of this movie and the suspense that director Scott Derrickson captures is haunting and that is awesome. Derrickson is not afraid to push the boundaries and almost immerse the audience into this world even though you know it’s a movie, and he captures that 70s vibe with precision. It is a game of cat-and-mouse and Derrickson allows the audience to play that game as we try to figure out if our villain is someone the audience has seen before and exactly WHERE is he hiding these kids. The big climax has an epic twist that even I didn’t see coming and loved that nod in the movie. “The Black Phone” is a tale of warning kids to be cautious of strangers, but at the same time warning parents to always keep a watchful eye of their children. It might just be a movie, but it mirrors real life in times that is scary as hell.