Judging a movie based on a work of literature is hard. Judging a movie based on a work of literature by the son of an already iconic horror author is even harder. The Black Phone is an adaptation of a short story by Joe Hill, son of the monumentally famous Stephen King. And while there were a couple parts that made me draw connections between the father and son’s works (“Gwen is wearing a yellow raincoat! JUST LIKE GEORGIE IN IT!”), I was still able to review the movie on its own merits.
The Black Phone takes place in a small Colorado town in 1978, where the community is rocked by a series of disappearances of young boys, the latest being 13-year-old Finney (Mason Thames), who is abducted by a mysterious and sinister man dubbed “The Grabber” (Ethan Hawke). Held captive in a soundproof basement, Finney begins receiving calls on a disconnected telephone from The Grabber’s previous victims. With their help, he must rush to escape The Grabber’s clutches and avoid the other boys’ violent fate.
This is easily one of my favorite horror movies of the last few years. Directed by Scott Derrickson, it’s excellently paced; at just under an hour and 45 minutes, it maintains a suspenseful tone throughout without dragging. There are several very effective jump scares throughout without the movie being over-reliant on them. While it’s obviously a dark story, there’s some great comedy sprinkled throughout. I love the late 70’s setting for the story; besides just loving the period-specific costuming and score, I appreciate that the setting a horror movie in a decade where problems can’t easily be solved with modern technology.
The cast is overwhelmingly good as well. Hawke is absolutely chilling as The Grabber, and his performance is even more impressive considering he mostly has to act from behind a mask (granted, a very creepy and creative mask designed by horror icon Tom Savini). James Ransone, who is no stranger to the King/Hill family’s works (he played Eddie in 2019’s It: Chapter 2), is hilarious as Max despite only having a few short scenes.
The young cast is mostly good; Mason Thames is easily a standout, and while Madeline McGraw as Finney’s sister Gwen and Miguel Cazarez Mora as Finney’s friend Robin are a little mechanical at times, they still give very sincere performances, and Madeline has some especially funny line deliveries. The weakest spot is Jeremy Davies as Finney and Gwen’s father Terrence, who feels a little one-dimensional as the violent alcoholic; some blame obviously falls on the writers for the stereotypical character, but the actor still could have brought some nuance to the role.
Overall, though, my issues with this movie are nitpicky, and I deeply enjoyed it. I already want to watch it again, and I can’t wait to read the short story it’s based on.
Have you seen THE BLACK PHONE? Well, what did you think?