Black Phone is available to rent, buy or stream.
The 1970s are often viewed through a lens of freedom, music and style in films from Licorice Pizza to Almost Famous. But underneath the veneer of freedom and rebellion, the 70s were wrapped in darkness. After all, this was a decade that brought us Ted Bundy, Jeff Dahmer, The Yorkshire Ripper and John Wayne Gacy. It may have been a decade of freedom, but it was also a time of rising crime and economic hardship. Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone understands the darker side of the 1970s and reflects the social fears surrounding killers like Gacy and the less discussed Dean Corll.
The Black Phone is Derrickson’s first directorial outing since Doctor Strange, and tonally it couldn’t be more different as he tears apart 70s nostalgia with more than a passing nod to the work of Stephen King. Therefore it should be no surprise that The Black Phone is based on the short story of the same name, written by Joe Hill, the son of King. Here Denver is plagued by a mysterious figure named by the locals as The Grabber. But this cloaked figure doesn’t hide in the darkness; instead, he snatches young teen boys in broad daylight, his victims, never to be seen again.
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Finney (Mason Thames) and his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) live in fear of the mysterious disappearances of several of their schoolmates and the volatile behaviour of their alcoholic father. However, when Finney becomes the sixth victim of The Grabber (Ethan Hawke), a disconnected phone in his basement prison offers hope as The Grabber’s past victims come back from the dead to guide him. At the same time, his sister attempts to use her latent psychic abilities to set him free.
Like Derrickson’s breakthrough picture, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Black Phone is bathed in a series of conventional horror themes that are, while predictable, expertly handled to create a sense of tension and threat. Here the dramatic detail, performances, and 1970s period style enable The Black Phone to rise above the standard serial killer flick by creating a genuinely scary supernatural-inspired game of cat and mouse between a boy, a killer and the spirits of his victims.