The Black Phone: Don’t Hang Up
Dir. Scott Derrickson (2021)
A young boy who has been abducted by a child murderer named The Grabber must find a way to escape.
Thank God for early access on Amazon Prime! I unfortunately had to miss this one in the theaters, but I got up at the ass-crack of dawn to make sure I watched this one on streaming as soon as it was available. To say I was not disappointed in my enthusiasm would be an understatement. The cast is amazing, the story is fantastic, and this one rockets quite close to becoming my favorite movie of 2022.
This one’s gonna pop up in some nightmares.
I’m not going to spoil very much in this review, as honestly it’s important to make sure that everyone who can see this unspoiled gets the chance to. It’s no secret to say that the villain of the film, the creepily-monikered The Grabber, grabs kids. That’s why they call him The Grabber, and the Devil-Masked Creepo Who Murders Kids For Fun is way too long of a nickname. His most recent victim Finney, played by Mason Thames in a career-making role, is a loser at school despite being the star pitcher in a youth baseball league. Apparently things were different in the 70’s, and athletic prowess did not always translate to popularity. Finney is grabbed by The Grabber, and once he is taken, he is locked in a basement where many children from the community have met their grisly ends.
Ethan Hawke is The Grabber. Now, I want to make sure you read that correctly. I didn’t say that The Grabber is played by Ethan Hawke. I said Ethan Hawke is The Grabber, in the kind of role where you wonder how deep he actually had to dig to portray this horrible serial killer, because he is fucking amazing in the role. Hawke is an underrated actor anyway, but he has perhaps the best role in his career in this film playing the deliciously creepy masked murder, with a multi-part mask designed by the legendary Tom Savini. If authorities found a dozen dead children in Hawke’s basement tomorrow, I would be like, yeah, did you SEE The Black Phone? Obviously. This is an Oscar-worthy performance, and don’t let anyone tell you differently when he inevitably gets snubbed because he’s in a horror movie.
Ethan Hawke at his most Johnny Depp.
In Finney’s prison there is a black phone that rings occasionally, despite not being connected to any power source, and he begins to hear messages from those who came before. Finney’s sister, played wonderfully by Madeleine McGraw, has visions in her dream like her mother before her, and she does her best to utilize these dreams to track down her brother once he’s been taken. These elements give the story a supernatural bent, the only part of the story that I believe kept it from perfection. The movie was creepy as hell to begin with, and these parts took away a bit from the realism that permeates the rest of the film. It does make a bit of sense knowing that the film was written by Joe Hill, who has taken more than one storytelling cue from his father.
All critique aside, this does indeed feel like an amazing Stephen King story. For those who have doubts that Hill is just as good as his legendary father, I would argue that The Black Phone could make the case that he’s an even better storyteller than his old man. It’s a complete story with no loose ends, something that King often struggles with. It’s a terrifying premise with a satisfyingly brutal ending, and a very impressive film from a writer and a filmmaker whose careers are already full of them. It has the same kind of gritty, disturbing feel as Sinister, director Scott Derrickson’s most famous film before this one, and it’s a worthwhile watch for anyone who loves horror. I didn’t find it as scary as many of the reviews I’ve read have said, but it’s creepy as all-get-out and has some seriously stellar moments.
Reading is what? Fundamental!
Who this movie is for: Every horror fan; People who like serial killer films with a supernatural bent; People who know what a rotary phone is.
Bottom line: Outstanding film from top to bottom, with some of the best acting I’ve seen this year. Ethan Hawke is simply incredible, and he deserves at least an Oscar nod as the terrifying Grabber. Joe Hill’s story is adapted incredibly well, and the hottest horror film of the year so far deserves every bit of the acclaim it has received. Watch this one today on Amazon Prime before someone spoils it for you.