The Black Phone is a dark and twisty thriller based on a short story by Joe Hill. We follow the character of Finney Shaw (Mason Thames) and his sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), who have a troubled home life – a father (Jeremy Davies) suffering from PTSD from what is assumed to be the Vietnam War, and a mother who saw ghosts that told her to end it all. More problems start to arise when young boys throughout their small town begin to go missing, taken by who folks are calling the Grabber. When Finney finds himself caught and locked in a basement, the black phone begins to ring and the voices of the dead whisper what to do…
Story wise, The Black Phone has an incredibly strong premise that is successfully brought to life by excellent screenwriting and direction – courtesy of C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson, respectively. The concept of a phone carrying the voices of former victims, all to help one person escape and finally stop the Grabber? Fantastic. Add in the character of Gwen who has been seeing the kidnappings in her dreams and, after her brother’s disappearance, is more determined that ever to follow those dreams of hers, and you’ve got yourself a winning supernatural recipe. And even among the thrills and twists of the main plotline, The Black Phone still finds time to grant each of the main characters a satisfying arc.
This reviewer’s only qualm about the story is that more could have been made of the Grabber’s motives – however, this is ultimately unimportant to the film’s overall drive.
The characters are magnificently brought to life by the young actors. McGraw as Gwen Shaw is a stand out, with her character being determined, overwhelmed, and terrified in equal measure. Thames, as Finney, offers an equally strong lead. Ethan Hawke is (of course) our Grabber, an inspired casting decision in a role that draws sharp parallels to Hawke’s Purge nemesis. The assemble cast, particularly our ghosts – Jacob Moran as Billy, Brady Hepner as Vance, Tristan Pravong as Bruce, Miguel Cazarez Mora as Robin, and Banks Repeta as Griffin – are hair-raisingly perfect.
Derrickson’s vision for the film is cohesive throughout. The muted colours feels both accurate to the time period and to the sombre subjects at stake, while the chilling score from Mark Korven spur emotions in an anxious crescendo, concluding in a fantastically satisfying climax.
The Black Phone is full of thrills, twists and turns, and suspenseful moments that will have you tensing in your seat. A thoroughly enjoyable experience for those who enjoy a good scare.
The Black Phone releases in cinemas June 24th.