A good horror movie can make a frightening scene out of just about anything, from a haunted house with a demonic presence to a monster with gnashing teeth and a thirst for blood. While there’s creativity in a well-designed threat, done poorly, these elements can feel like distracting window dressing. Too much lore spoils the story and, if removed from reality, a film can start to lose any terrifying effect.
The Black Phone dials things back, constructing a scary figure that hits home with The Grabber, a masked man terrorising a town, taking children on their way home from school. The film does a good job of establishing The Grabber’s looming presence. Parents fear the worst, and the young ones are on edge, though the fear is not enough to stop them from walking home unattended. Such was the case of Finney, snatched off the street and thrown into a soundproof basement with only a dirty mattress and a disconnected black rotary phone. Given that he was walking unaccompanied and coming from a fight he needed to be rescued from, Finney will need to develop a much stronger survival instinct. Thankfully, he has a few guiding hands. Finney starts conversing with the past victims through the black phone. They give him the instructions to follow if he hopes to make it out alive. The scenes in the cellar are particularly compelling. Ethan Hawke’s masked monstrosity creates tension whenever he’s on screen. His face is always partially obscured, making his actions unpredictable. The Black Phone keeps you on edge as Finney makes his attempts at escape.
It’s not just Hawke who delivers a strong performance. The film would not work without the compelling performances by the dual protagonists. Mason Thames’ Finney and Madeleine McGraw’s Gwen have a convincing sibling bond that anchors the film. When Finney goes missing, your mind goes to his sister, and you root for the two to reunite.
The film has quality performances that push along its engaging story. As Finney unlocks the secrets, the movie dips into a distinctly creepy atmosphere that’s sure to jolt the audience. That said, much of the movie’s mystery remains unsolved by the time the credits roll. It may leave some viewers in a frustrated state of suspense, but the film was so thorough in its characterisation that I’m willing to give it a pass.
Rating: Half Price
Damian Levy is a film critic and podcaster for Damian Michael Movies.