Set in a suburban town in Colorado back in 1978, The Black Phone begins as five children go missing. A mysterious (and presumed) serial killer that targets children–who the media calls ‘The Grabber’–is on the loose and abducting children one-by-one in the area. For his 6th victim, The Grabber abducts Finney Shaw, a clever but weak 13-year-old that’s frequently bullied. Trapped in a sound proof basement by the sociopathic lunatic, Finney needs to get out of his prison as quickly as possible. However, when a seemingly disconnected black phone keeps calling him, he learns that the mysterious callers are, in fact, the Grabbers previous captives with a plan to help him escape.
Directed by Scott Derrickson, The Black Phone presents itself as a horror movie with an interesting premise but it’s really about overcoming your fears and standing up for yourself. Constantly getting beat up throughout the film, Finney always takes the abuse without fighting back. (In fact, his friend and even his little sister have to be the ones that fight his battles for him.) As a representation of the ultimate bully, The Grabber only picks on those who are much weaker than him to be his victims, tormenting them for his amusement. When the time comes, Finney has no other option but to stand up to The Grabber. However, in order to fight back, he must use all of the tools and knowledge of the previous victims to defeat his bully and set himself free.
Personally, I really loved how they went about the horror and premise of the movie. By using a lunatic abductor as the villain, Derrickson gives a sense of realism to the film as this could easily happen to anyone. Trapped in a small confined space, the film has maintains an eerie claustrophobic feel. (A sense that’s further emphasized by Finney’s reliance on the Grabber for food.) What’s most shocking about the film is the effectiveness of its fight scenes. Inspired by The Karate Kid, the hits are surprisingly heavy with a lot of weight to them, allowing the violence to feel satisfying in the end.
At the same time, although the film seems grounded, The Black Phone also has a supernatural influence to it that should engage horror fans. With each call from those who died at the hand of the Grabber, Finney taps into their power and influence. As a result, the film feel feels almost as though The Grabber is the final boss in a video game and Finney is using tips from the other dead children to ‘level up’.
In many ways, Black Phone becomes really inspirational as it gives anyone who’s ever been bullied the motivation to fight back. As the film builds to its cathartic finale, it’s hard not to empathize with (or even relate to) Finney. One cannot help but put themselves in his shoes as he finds the strength to stand up to his kidnapper.
Derrickson has always been a master of horror and it shows here. Balancing both ‘realistic’ and ‘supernatural’ horror, The Black Phone proves to be a solid horror film with a satisfying ending. In short, this is definitely one scare-fest that will Grab you.
The Black Phone is available in theatres on Friday, June 24th, 2022.