Sunday, March 5, 2023

REVIEW: The Black Phone (live action movie)

The Black Phone is a supernatural horror movie. I bought my copy new.

My review includes spoilers.


This is set in Denver in 1978. A serial killer called "The Grabber" has been abducting and killing kids in the area. 

Finney deals with an abusive, alcoholic father at home and bullies at school. The main people he's got in his life to back him up are his sister Gwen, who is unfortunately also one of their father's targets, and his friend Robin, who deals with bullies by publicly beating them up so that they're less likely to attack him or his friends at other times.

The Grabber strikes, takes Finney's friend Robin, and, not long after that, Finney himself. When Finney wakes up after being abducted, he finds himself in a dark room that contains only a toilet, a mattress, and a disconnected black phone. As the days pass, the Grabber comes by several times, bringing Finney food and water, and giving him chances to escape. However, Finney has begun receiving phone calls from the ghosts of the Grabber's previous victims, and he knows from their warnings that if he tries to leave and doesn't succeed, he'll definitely be killed. As he follows their advice and tries to figure out a way to escape, his sister attempts to bring on the psychic dreams she inherited from her mother in order to find her missing brother.

I initially avoided this movie because it looked likely to be too dark and gory for me. Then I happened to find a cheap copy and snatched it up on impulse. It was a good impulse: although this did have some moments that made me very anxious, I don't recall there being much gore. In fact, the "goriest" scene might have been at the beginning, when Robin was beating up a bully.

This movie came across as practically tailor-made for the Stranger Things-loving crowd. Although it took place slightly earlier than that series, its efforts to evoke the time period in which it was set felt similar. Also, it had a similar focus on its younger main characters. Like the kids in Stranger Things, Finney and Gwen didn't initially seem equipped to fight the darkness they found themselves up against, but they somehow managed despite the odds.

Finney's story couldn't have happened the way it did without a bunch of other kids' deaths prior to his abduction, but this didn't come across as a bleak story. Although the hints the Grabber's victims gave Finney didn't always work out, he learned something from everything they told him, and it all came together in a way that both was both thrilling and relieving (as long as you didn't think too hard about the long-term psychological effects of Finney's abduction).

All in all, I really enjoyed this and am glad I watched it despite my initial "it's probably too scary and gory for me" worries. Ethan Hawke was fabulously creepy as the Grabber. This is one of those movies I might watch again at some point, simply because I could enjoy it more with the knowledge that the possibilities that made me most anxious aren't going to happen.


Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurette, commentary, a short film by director Scott Derrickson ("Shadowprowler"), and more that I'm forgetting. I recall the short film (a home invasion story) starting off promisingly and having some tense scenes, but I can't for the life of me remember how it ends.

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