Shawn O’Brate

The newest movie to grace the Gem Theater and scare the ever-living bejeezus out of the audience has arrived this week with Black Phone roaring into theaters and reminding everybody about the dangers of child abduction, mentally unstable home-owners and…ghost phones?

Black Phone is set in the late 70s in a Denver suburb filled with children who were still able to walk the streets and ride their bikes across town without worry, but all that changed when “The Grabber” began abducting children when they were alone, leaving only black balloons at the scene and a horrifying pit in the stomach of the parents.

The Grabber, played by Ethan Hawke (Training Day, Moon Knight, Sinister), has abducted at least five children by the time the main character, Finney–played by Mason Thames (For All Mankind), runs into him on the way home to his drunk, abusive father. 

What this movie does differently than other horror movies that are set in this time period is the pure fear that the abduction scene provides, spraying some sort of chemical in Finney’s mouth to knock him unconscious before throwing him in the back of a van and then into the sound-proof basement that The Grabber was once held in as a boy.

The only thing in the basement is a raggedy bed on the ground, a dirty toilet with no seat, and a black phone hung on the wall that has not been connected in years according to The Grabber.

Meanwhile, while Finney is locked in the basement and hearing the phone ring even though there is no connection, his young sister is at home with their drunken father and having premonitions almost every night about the recent abductions. 

Finney’s sister Gwen, played by Madeleine McGraw (American Sniper, Outcast, The Mandela Effect), has these premonitions that she shares with the police but when she tries to tell her father he mercilessly beats her for believing they are anything more than dreams, bringing back severe PTSD for anybody who was hit with a belt by their parents at a young age.

No matter, Gwen continues to see more and more about the house that she believes her brother to be locked in with dreams showing the tree in the front yard, the chain fence, and the black screen door that is locked by a bike lock that The Grabber steals from a boy he kidnaps and murders.

Director Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil) provides a much needed change in the horror genre that still plays with common tropes like ghosts, premonitions, and the occasional paranormal activity but with the way the movie begins and thrusts into terror it’s a difficult movie to gauge what the audience should be afraid of.

The “horror” aspect of the movie comes mainly from the phone that Finney–and The Grabber to some aspect–hears ringing all the time. When Finney answers he can hear the voices of the other boys that The Grabber has kidnapped and murdered in that very room. Their bloody faces and slit throats make appearances through jump scares though, and they serve as loud reminders to always know where your child is.

Black Phone is a subtle, but scary, reminder that child abductions are real and can happen to any child no matter what age or how strong they might be. Even the tough, mentally crazy teenagers that carve their name into their victims after a botched pinball game are taken by The Grabber and forced to play vicious games with a grown man in a multitude of somewhat-terrifying versions of traditional Japanese Oni masks. 

Outside of the obvious terror that comes with having your child abducted and never returned safely, but rather in a body bag, the movie relies heavily on five or six jump scares to entice horror fans to come and watch. Also anyone with sensitive hearing, like the always-hungover and abusive father, is in for the opposite of a treat as the ringing phone carries throughout the Gem Theater constantly.

Hawke’s performance is definitely creepy, and turns vicious with less than ten minutes left in the film, but for the most part his shirtless persona and creepy Oni mask combinations will simply send occasional shivers down your arm and not strike much fear into your heart.

Although, compared to recent horror movies that seem to have the same type of plot, same type of horror villain, and same type of actors, this movie is a breath of fresh air. And it’s also a much-needed reminder about the safety of children as well as a nice release from the same, old scary movies that Insidious and The Conjuring have morphed into which seem to be carbon copies of each other over and over again.

Overall Score: 3.5 / 5

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