Review of “The Black Phone”

By Melvin Twigg Mason

            They call him “Finney.” Finneas Shaw is big brother to his sister, Gwen. Almost every weekend, when Gwen (played wonderfully by Madeleine McGraw) splits off from walking home from school with her brother to spend the night at a friend’s house, Finney gets chased and jumped by a group of bullies. But even more concerning to these siblings is the recent rash of unsolved child abductions happening in their neighborhood of North Denver. This is the foundation and backdrop of Blumhouse Productions’ “The Black Phone.”  This story plays like a terror-noir film. It is taken from a 2004 short story by Joe Hill {“NOS4A2”), son of Stephen King. The film is directed by Scott Derrickson (“Exorcism of Emily Rose,” Marvel’s “Doctor Strange”) and distributed by Universal Pictures.

courtesy of            The tale starts as a typical coming-of-age drama but then turns into a fight for life when 13-year-old Finney (played skillfully by Mason Thames in his film debut) is abducted by a man dubbed by police as “The Grabber” (Ethan Hawkes). Gwen tries to help find her brother with the aid of “dreams,” an ability she inherited from her deceased mother. But what really may save the day for Finney are the various abilities he picks up from The Grabber’s previous victims—Finney’s deceased schoolmates—with whom he communicates through a disconnected black phone in the kidnapper’s basement.

            Set in the late 70s, the filmmakers take great pains to bring viewers back in time, not only through costuming (Aliyah Baynes, Amy Andrews, Jacob Aller) and well-placed period music like “Free Ride” and “Fox On the Run,” but also through referencing TV shows of that era and original music by Mark Korven (“Them,” “Resident Evil: Racoon City”). Even the look of several flashback scenes seems to come from original home movies from back in the day, courtesy of cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz (“Stranger Things,” “Scream” 2022).

            Positioned and repositioned for release courtesy of Universal Picvtures.since 2021 because of COVID, “The Black Phone” is not your typical shock schlock or blood-and-guts horror film. Still, it is truly an unexpected yet hope-filled coming-of-age that will keep you riveted every pulse-pounding second. As of June 24, “The Black Phone” is showing in theatres and will soon be released for streaming (on Peacock, and potentially Netflix and Hulu) around August 8. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes.