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  • Debbie Cerda

Don't Miss a Call from THE BLACK PHONE


Based on a short story by Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box, Horns), The Black Phone reunites the formidable Sinister (2012) and Dr. Strange team of writer C. Robert Cargill and writer-director Scott Derrickson for a nail-biting horror thriller grounded in realism.


It’s 1978, and a neighborhood in Denver, Colorado, is plagued by unexplained disappearances of several kids. Urban legends and rumors abound. Young Finney (Mason Thames) is subjected daily to bullying at school and abuse from his alcoholic father (Jeremy Davis). His younger sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) has premonitions via visions in her dreams, which their father refuses to accept as their mother claimed to have the same ability. While heading home from school one Friday afternoon, Finney encounters a black van with the word “Abracadabra” on its side, containing black balloons – and in the next moment everything goes black.


Finney awakens to find himself captive in a dank basement, containing only a stained mattress and a black wall telephone that is apparently broken. He quickly realizes that he is the latest victim of "The Grabber" (Ethan Hawke), a masked psychopath responsible for the disappearances of the other missing kids. As his sister Gwen desperately searches for clues to her brother’s whereabouts, Finney’s fate takes a twist when the black phone begins to ring.


The Black Phone conveys the true-to-life fear of the serial killer phenomenon of the Seventies sensationalized by the media, especially Dean “The Candy Man” Corll and John Wayne Gacy. On a personal note, as a young child growing up in Houston in the 1970s, I recall the utter shock wave across the city of the unearthing of over a dozen of Corll’s victims at the boat shed in August 1973.


With The Black Phone, Derrickson and Cargill have crafted a story that takes a deep dive into fear, loss, and trauma that are inherent in the human experience. Finney’s journey from a scared, confused teenager to a brave, resourceful survivor is a testament to his resilience. His conversations with The Grabber, who is played with chilling intensity by Ethan Hawke, are some of the most tense moments in the film. Hawke's performance is nuanced and layered, which makes him all the more terrifying. Thames and McGraw bring authenticity to their sibling relationship.


The Black Phone expertly intertwines supernatural elements with a serial murder theme through its dark atmosphere and aesthetics, and works on multiple levels. It’s a suspenseful thriller, a coming-of-age drama, and a study of the human psyche under extreme duress. The film is shot with a moody, atmospheric visual style that complements the story’s themes and creates a sense of foreboding that never lets up.


The Black Phone will linger in your mind long after the credits have rolled -- perhaps even creep into your dreams -- as a testament to the fact that horror can be much more than just cheap thrills and gore. It is reminiscent of Stephen King’s theory on horror, as stated in his non-fiction book Danse Macabre – “the epitome of horror, that emotion of fear that underlies terror, an emotion that is slightly less fine, because it is not entirely of the mind." This movie should please fans of paranormal horror/thriller films such as Sixth Sense and Lovely Bones.


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