Calls from beyond the grave

Recently released horror drama left viewers at the edge of their seat


Photo Courtesy of IMDb

The Black Phone film is an excellent adaptation of the 2004 short story by Joe Hill.

Carley Bailey, Staff Reporter

With cruel bullies, abusive parents, and friends gone missing, you’d think 13-year old Finney Blake (Mason Thames) had dealt with enough stress over the years. Little did he know helping out a stranger on the street would lead to a fight for survival and surely a lifetime’s worth of trauma. 

Released in June of 2022, 1970s supernatural horror film, “The Black Phone,”  follows the journey of one boy and his battle to escape “The Grabber” (Ethan Hawke) while encountering phone calls from the dead. 


At the commence of the film, Finney can be seen pitching at his little league baseball game with his enthusiastic little sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) rooting him on. One of the players on the opposite team, Bruce (Tristan Pravong), hits a home run off of one of Finney’s pitches and wins the game for his team. Bruce commends Finney for his arm, despite the loss on his end. 

A bit later, Bruce is seen riding his bike around town when an eerie black van pulls up in front of him, forcing Bruce to stop in his tracks. 

The creative and unique use of visuals used early in the film really influenced my initial opinion on the storyline itself. The grainy flashback sequence shown directly after Bruce’s abduction truly set the tone and honestly made me anxious to find out what happens next. Although we don’t know much about our main antagonist yet, this scene with Bruce and the daunting black van provided a glimpse into the future and allowed the audience to make predictions about upcoming scenes. Despite the fact that the story line may be predictable at first, producers still found a way to graze these scenes with suspicion and freight from the very beginning. 

The next day, while the siblings are walking to school, they come across a brawl between the school bully, Moose (Gavin Wilde), and the worldly-wise tough guy, Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora). Finney, Gwen and many others watch as Moose gets beaten to a bloody pulp, taking numerous hits to the face. As they continue on their way to school, Finney comes across Bruce’s missing child poster as Gwen informs him on the tales of “The Grabber.” At school, Finney and Gwen both encounter an equal share of issues. Finney is antagonized by three bullies in the bathroom while Gwen is questioned by detectives working on the multiple cases of missing children in the area. Gwen claims to have dreams related to these strange disappearances that she can’t seem to explain. 

This part of the film is definitely where some of the supernatural aspects come into play. I mean, the fact that Gwen has acquired some super psychic powers to see things through her dreams is interesting and all, but honestly, it’s just a bit random and quite odd for a film about a kidnapping.  Don’t get me wrong, Gwen is the only reason the detectives came that close to finding Finney, but I feel like it was just unnecessary in this scenario and the movie would have had the same outcome with or without these dreams. They did however add some appealing visuals throughout and gave some background to the victims of The Grabber

After the school day comes to an end, Gwen decides to spend the night with a friend, leaving Finney to take care of their alcoholic, abusive father by himself. After quickly dozing off in the living room, Finney is awoken to the blood-curdling cries of Gwen from the next room over. Rushing to see what was wrong, Finney witnesses his sister being brutally beaten by their father. After the police appeared at his work asking questions regarding Gwen’s dreams, their father became furious. He orders Gwen to say that her dreams are not real, as her deceased mother had similar dreams that were believed to be premonitions.

I really enjoyed the utilization of raw, real-life issues used to further explain the background of these two kids. From the suicide of their mother to living with a father who couldn’t care less about them, the film truly gives audiences a sympathetic perspective on Finney and Gwen’s lives and portrays just how important they are to each other. 

Not even a week after the last abduction, The Grabber claims his next victim, Robin. The word gets spread around the community as Finney, who was good friends with Robin, mourns his disappearance.  

Friday rolls around and Finney and Gwen go their separate ways on their route home from school. Just a few minutes away from home, Finney comes across a bubbly man stumbling out from behind a large black van. Stopping to help him, Finney is attacked by the man and sprayed in the mouth with a chemical that knocks him out cold.

I really enjoyed how they officially introduced The Grabber in this scene. Throughout the film, we’ve only been able to see glimpses of this dark figure with a handful of black balloons. The fact that we didn’t know exactly what he looked like from the beginning makes his first true appearance much more sinister. 

Finney wakes up in a rusted, old, soundproof cement basement containing only a dirty mattress, singular toilet, and a disconnected black rotary dial phone hinged to the wall. The Grabber taunts Finney but reassures him that he’s “special” and that nothing bad will happen to him. Not long after Finney’s initial imprisonment, the black phone begins to ring. With hesitation, Finney answers to hear the voice of young Bruce Yamada, The Grabbers fourth victim. Bruce gives Finney advice and tips on possible escape routes. Meanwhile, Gwen continues to have dreams about Finney and the other 5 victims but can’t seem to pinpoint what these dreams are trying to tell her. 

I was a bit skeptical about the whole idea of “ghost boys” helping Finney throughout his time spent in the basement. Again, it was sort of a random concept and made the story a bit unrealistic while focusing around a very realistic topic. I get that they had to find a way to incorporate all of The Grabbers past victims into the story, but the supernatural, ghostly scenes seemed sort of out-of-place. 

Numerous phone calls and escape attempts later, The Grabber returns to check on Finney, “accidentally” leaving the door unlocked while making his way back upstairs. Thinking this was his chance at escaping, Finney begins to walk upstairs until the black phone starts ringing once again. This time it was the old paperboy, Billy (Jacob Moran), warning him that it was a trick and that The Grabber was waiting at the top of the stairs for him. However, later that night, The Grabber leaves the door unlocked once again in hopes that Finney would make his way up. Except this time, he unintentionally falls asleep, giving Finney a real chance at freedom. Finney manages to make it out the door, but, as expected, this attempt fails horribly.

Finney’s almost successful escape attempt scene just about literally had me at the edge of my seat. Although it was easily predicted that he wasn’t going to actually get away, the fact that he was so close to freedom made me unbearably anxious. However, if Finney just were to have screamed for help when he had the chance then would he have been rescued. The solution was easy, but he decided to be plain stupid. 

In a dream, Gwen finds herself alongside Vance Hooper (Brady Hepner), another one of The Grabbers victims, who is talking to Finney through a police radio. They end up in front of a house Gwen had never seen before. Later on, she takes her bike to go searching for this mysterious house from her dreams and finds exactly what she was looking for. 

Accepting the fact that he wasn’t getting out, Finney begins to cry in exhaustion, all until he gets yet another call on the black phone. This time, it was Robin on the other line. He encourages Finney to stand up for himself and gives him advice, putting his final escape attempt into action. Meanwhile, Gwen contacts the police and informs them about the house and her theory that it’s where the missing children are being held. While this happens, Finney prepares for his battle against The Grabber. Unexpectedly, The Grabber’s brother Max (James Ransone), who has been living with him for a while now, discovers Finney in the basement. However, this small sliver of hope was short-lived as The Grabber killed Max with an axe to the head. 

I personally found this part both hysterical and gruesome. The fact that Max was so nonchalant about a child being held captive in his brother’s basement gave the audience that sort of comical relief from the anxiety-inducing scenes just moments before. However, Max’s death turned that whole thing around as his head was split in half by his own brother.  

With a simple trip wire and a real deep whole, Finney manages to entrap The Grabber by breaking his ankle and smacking him in the head with the dirt-filled phone repeatedly. He wraps the phone cord around The Grabber’s neck as the phone rings one final time. Except this time, all 5 of The Grabbers’ victims taunted him over his demise as Finney forced him to listen. With a swift snap of the neck, Finney made his way out of the house. 

The overall film was intriguing, mysterious, and in many ways gruesome. I wouldn’t particularly say it was that scary of a movie, but rather diabolical and distressing. The only thing that really bothered me was how unrealistic and random the role of the ghost boys were. Regardless, this supernatural horror drama benefited immensely from the powerful performances by the actors and the use of raw emotion throughout. The story was told both thoroughly and effectively, which is what truly made it the mesmerizing film it claimed to be.