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The Terror Comeback

The Terror Comeback: ‘The Black Phone’

Ethan Hawke as a Terrifying Killer in an Indelible Horror Flick About Strength, Grief, Friendship, and Abuse.

The Black Phone Review
Universal Pictures

In this column, Zofia Wijaszka reviews forgotten, underrated, and “hidden gems” horror films that deserve a new audience’s attention and post-watch conversation. The Terror Comeback’s goal is to celebrate the horror genre, both genre in the cinema and on television.

The Black Phone Review: Ethan Hawke as a Terrifying Killer in an Indelible Horror Flick About Strength, Grief, Friendship, and Abuse

Universal Pictures

Though Ethan Hawke was a regular presence in movies while I was growing up, one of his most memorable roles for me was in Sinister. Scott Derrickson’s scary contemporary horror stars Ethan Hawke as a determined crime writer who is slowly consumed by his work. In Derrickson’s more recent picture, The Black Phone, Hawke transforms into The Grabber, a ruthless killer. Based on Joe Hill’s book of the same name, the creators provide one of the most memorable contemporary horrors, discussing loss, domestic violence, supernatural, and much more.

The Black Phone debuted in 2021, and it was recently announced that another installment is in the pipeline. The Blumhouse-produced horror follows Gwendolyn Shaw (Madeleine McGraw), a middle-schooler whose brother, Finn (Mason Thames), is kidnapped by The Grabber (Hawke). A dangerous man is a ruthless and mysterious serial killer who has been kidnapping and murdering children in a tranquil suburban community in North Denver. The Grabber, often wearing a bloodcurdling mask resembling a devil creature, kidnaps Finn. Yet, the man is unaware of the boy’s strength or his sister’s ability to perceive things from past and future in her dreams. Defying his alcoholic father (Jeremy Davies), Gwen sets out on her own to unearth the secret behind The Grabber and save Finn before it’s too late.

Universal Pictures

Derrickson’s horror isn’t for the faint-hearted. While Hawke delivers a petrifying performance, it’s the younger cast ensemble that lingers with us after viewing. McGraw and Thames make a fantastic duo, portraying a beautiful bond between a brother and sister. As the Shaw siblings find themselves in an abusive circumstance where their father frequently uses his belt instead of communicating with words, their bond grows even stronger. However, The Black Phone also tells a story about friendship. The film focuses on Finn’s relationships at school, where he is relentlessly bullied. Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora) is one of his few true pals, a muscly youngster who isn’t hesitant to defend those who matter, including Finn.

There are numerous reasons why this intricate horror film is remarkable and worth watching again in the future. In addition to a solid script and the previously mentioned outstanding cast, The Black Phone contains many themes relevant to contemporary life, such as the complicated relationships between children and their fathers, or the incredibly moving monologues of The Grabber’s victims, as seen in scenes where Finn is confined in the barred basement. These are very devastating, but they encourage Thames’ character to keep on. At the same time, the scenes have an audience in tears but motivated to cheer Finn on.

Universal Pictures

However, nothing can prepare you for the third act and the film’s conclusion. When I re-watched the movie to write a review for my column, it had the same, if not larger, impact. By the conclusion, I was perched on the edge of the couch, fearfully following Gwen, and Finn’s actions, and gasping and screaming as I witnessed the brutal but satisfying ending. The Black Phone has the rare ability to remain as captivating and surprising as when watching for the first time. Despite knowing what would happen, you are simply unable to pull your gaze away from the screen.

Perhaps we can equate the emotion experienced while viewing The Black Phone to the one invented by Mike Flanagan in The Haunting of the Hill Housescrying, which is screaming, and crying all at once. The film provokes comparable emotions, leaving the spectator with lingering impressions. In a word, Derrickson has a flair for depicting intricate interactions and teenage emotions on screen. The Black Phone serves as further evidence. McGraw and Thames’ characters will undoubtedly stay with you for a while as we all wait for more information on the second installment.

Grade: A



The Black Phone

The Black Phone

Finney Blake, a shy but clever 13-year-old boy, is abducted by a sadistic killer and trapped in a soundproof basement where screaming is of little use. When a disconnected phone on the wall begins to ring, Finney discovers that he can hear the voices of the killer’s previous victims. And they are dead set on making sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen to Finney.

Release Date: June 22, 2022

Director: Scott Derrickson

Cast: Mason Thames , Ethan Hawke , Madeleine McGraw

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