Wednesday 3 August 2022

REVIEW: The Black Phone (2022) - Starring Mason Thames and Ethan Hawke

Review by Jon Donnis
The Black Phone seemed to be released without much fanfare, but once it was released it has done very well at the box office, so I thought I would check it out.

Set in 1978 there is a serial killer on the loose known as The Grabber (Ethan Hawke), he has been prowling the streets of a Denver suburb abducting kids.

Finney (Mason Thames) and his sister Gwen, (Madeleine McGraw) live in that suburb with their alcohol father Terrence (Jeremy Davies) who also regularly hits them. Finney is getting bullied at school, but one day befriends another boy Robin, who gets into a fight with a bully and beats him up, Robin informs the bullies to leave Finney alone.

Gwen seems to be having psychic dreams, which we soon learn her mother also had, but which eventually sent her crazy, Gwen dreams of the kidnapping of another boy Bruce, who was friends with Finney, she sees black balloons in the dream, and when the local detectives find out about her dreams, they are intrigued as the information about the balloons was never released to the public. Although they are sceptical of her claims of the info coming from dreams. There is a great scene where they are talking to Gwen, and she is just being really sarcastic back to them. Highlight of the film for me.

Days later The Grabber abducts Robin, and then later Finney. Finney finds himself in a soundproofed basement all alone. The only connection to the outside world is a black rotary phone on the wall, but the Grabber informs Finney that the phone does not work.

Later Finney hears the Black Phone ring, he picks it up, he speaks to Bruce's ghost, but Bruce can't remember his own name or when he was alive, he informs Finney about a floor tile he can remove to dig a tunnel to escape. Regularly the phone then rings and previous victims of the Grabber give advice to Finney, to help him survive and escape, to try things that they were unable to complete. Including Robin who helps teach Finney how to fight using the phone.

The rest of the film is a mixture of Gwen having dreams, the detectives investigating, and Finney speaking to ghosts on the phone, who also appear for the viewer only to see, trying to help Finney as well as prevent what happened to them, happening to him.

The film has a very grim feeling throughout, which helps not only bring you in to the era it is set, but also to convey the helplessness of the situation.

Gwen is excellent as the little sister who loves her brother, is desperate to help him, as well as bravely standing up to her abusive father. I wonder if the story would have been better if she was the child abducted instead of Finney, as his character is a much weaker one, as well as the fact she is the one having the psychic dreams, it makes more sense that the ghosts would speak to her on the phone than her brother.

The film is about 100 minutes long, so not too long or short, there are some pacing issues, and with all films like this I tend to think a tighter runtime works better.

The Good
The Gwen character is excellent, and Ethan Hawke is good as The Grabber, although he is behind a mask for most of the film. The storyline although perhaps unoriginal, is told well and you do feel a connection with the young characters, and want them to survive.

The Bad
Perhaps 20 minutes too long, and Gwen would have been a better abductee than Finney.

For a "horror" film, I didn't really think The Grabber was particularly scary, and you pretty much know the ending in advance, no twists etc.

A decent film, well worth a watch.

I score The Black Phone a fair 7/10

Out now in cinemas. And also watch at home on Prime Video