The Reel Review
When 13-year-old Finney is abducted by a sadistic serial killer, he discovers that a disconnected, black rotary phone in his captor’s basement is a supernatural link to the killer’s prior victims and his own clairvoyant younger sister Gwen, in this Blumhouse horror/thriller starring Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw and Ethan Hawke.
Set in 1978 Denver, co-writer/director Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange) accurately depicts the retro vibe of the era while cleverly incorporating grainy Super 8 home video to illustrate Gwen’s psychic premonitions. The effect is reminiscent of his prior 2012 Ethan Hawke collaboration Sinister, just with a healthy dose of Stranger Things vintageness and It–type, spooky clown vibes. Hawke is effectively chilling as The Grabber, but it is a convincing Mason Thames, in his film debut, as our hero who overcomes his timidness, and Madeleine McGraw as his overly precocious, feisty sister, who do the impressive heavy lifting in the acting department. They carry the film.
The resilience of sibling bonds in the face of childhood trauma is a recurring theme of The Black Phone, be it shockingly violent schoolyard bullying, the alcoholic father’s graphic physical abuse of his kids or the serial killer terrorizing his victims. Kids looking out for one another amidst a backdrop of unreliable adults adds a multi-layered approach to the simple, straightforward horror story, which makes it an impressive cut above the more typical, low-budget Blumhouse horror schlock.
• The Black Phone is based on the short story from Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill.
• Scott Derrickson made The Black Phone his next project after leaving 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness over creative differences, moving the production out five months to ensure that Madeleine McGraw would be available.
• Ethan Hawke says he initially said no to playing The Grabber in The Black Phone, changing his mind after he read the script.
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