an illustration of The Black Phone, a horror movie
Illustration by Olivia Woolfrey, Ringling College of Art and Design

‘The Black Phone’ Is Selling Out Theaters, and It’s Easy To See Why

Featuring a unique plot, talented actors and believable characters, the film is easily the top must-see thriller movie of the year.

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an illustration of The Black Phone, a horror movie
Illustration by Olivia Woolfrey, Ringling College of Art and Design

Featuring a unique plot, talented actors and believable characters, the film is easily the top must-see thriller movie of the year.

“The Black Phone” is easily the top must-see thriller movie of the year. That said, its success was not assured — not even Jason Blum, the founder of the movie’s production company, thought it was a sure thing. According to CNBC, “Blum was one of many that worried lower-budget films might not have a place at cinemas in the wake of pandemic theater closures. However, the film, a collaboration between his production company Blumhouse and Universal, has proven to Blum and the greater industry that there is still space for features with smaller budgets at the box office.”

The Black Phone” surpassed the $150 million global ticket sales mark, and it is the third-biggest horror movie released since 2020, behind Paramount’s “A Quiet Place: Part 2,” which snared $299 million, and Warner Bros.’ “Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” which tallied $206 million. As you can see, the movie has been very popular, and it’s easy to understand why. Here are the main reasons why you should watch “The Black Phone.”

Director

The film was directed by Scott Derrickson, who also directed well-known horror movies like “Sinister” (2012) and “Deliver Us From Evil” (2014). Derrickson has some serious talent, and the way he gets the message across in “The Black Phone” is compelling. Its message is to stand up for yourself, and when that’s not enough, find a close group of people to stand along with you. The casting for this movie was incredible as well, and I really wouldn’t change a thing.

Plot

Spoilers ahead.

The movie is set in the 1970s, and when the main character, Finney Shaw (Mason Thames), repeatedly gets bullied at school, his sister, Gwen Shaw (Madeleine McGraw), and his friend Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora), tell him he needs to stand up for himself. Finney’s home life isn’t much better, as he and his sister are abused by their alcoholic father. And to make matters worse, a serial killer nicknamed “The Grabber” is going around kidnapping and murdering young boys in his neighborhood.

One day, Finney gets kidnapped by The Grabber, and we soon learn that the killer keeps his victims in a secluded, locked room in the basement of his brother Max’s house. In the room, a black phone hangs on the wall, but the killer says it hasn’t worked in years. However, the phone rings, and previous victims of The Grabber give Finney strategies to escape the killer. Finney’s sister Gwen has the ability to see things in her sleep, and she claims that she sees the killer’s past victims and Max’s house where the murders occurred. The film is full of eerie twists, and ultimately, it really stands out from other horror movies.

The Villain

Ethan Hawke does a great job playing a psychopath, and his creepy mask that changed depending on his emotions is a really great touch. According to Movieweb, Hawke can “make The Grabber look shrunken and sympathetic in one moment, then towering and wrathful in the next. The range of manipulative emotions and movements shown in this villain is truly something incredible that Hawke pulls off masterfully.”

The Talent of the Child Actors

The actors who played the two main characters, Finney and Gwen, are not very experienced, but they performed like pros. In one standout scene, Gwen is being abused by her dad. She is crying hysterically while Finney watches, and he eventually, hesitantly steps in to try to get his dad to stop. This scene made me feel sick and was so believable that I almost forgot I was watching a movie and actually got angry. It was a great representation of trauma, and though the scene is hard to watch, it’s important to show these difficult situations in the media.

Supernatural Elements Anchored in Reality

When a horror movie includes supernatural elements, the film can often seem cheesy or cheap. But “The Black Phone” does a great job adding Gwen’s abilities to the plot without making them the focus of the movie. Gwen “has prophetic dreams that feel like an empathetic connection, shown first for the brother of her school friend, which only becomes stronger when her own brother is in danger.” We also find out that her mother similarly had prophetic dreams, but we are unsure if she got this ability from her mother or if there’s another explanation. However, if the source were easily identifiable, the supernatural elements likely would have seemed cheesier and less believable, so the obscurity served the film well.

Also, the fact that Finney speaks with the ghosts of past victims of The Grabber adds a very creative touch to the movie. While I watched the movie, I wondered if he was really speaking to them or if it was rather his internal thoughts serving as a coping mechanism.

Overall, “The Black Phone” is a very original horror movie, and I truly don’t think we will see another movie like it. Derrickson has very unique and bold ideas for horror/thriller movies, and I can’t wait to see what else he has in store. If you are interested in seeing the film, here is a link to the trailer.

Writer Profile

Morgan Thomas

Wayne State University
Print and Online Journalism

My name is Morgan Thomas and I am a senior at Wayne State University. I am majoring in print and online journalism and I have a minor in film.

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