If you’re looking for a supernatural thriller to entertain you this summer, my pick currently is The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson and adapted from Joe Hill’s short story by the same name.
The film follows Finney Shaw, a 13-year-old boy who is abducted by the serial child-kidnapper and killer known as The Grabber. Finney is trapped in a soundproof basement. Other than a bed and a toilet, the basement contains a disconnected black phone. Soon, Finney is receiving calls from the killer’s previous victims.
You might have heard of Derrickson’s other films Doctor Strange (2016) and Sinister (2012) or even The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005). Don’t go into The Black Phone thinking it’s going to be like Doctor Strange. It definitely leans more toward Sinister, which is a great thing if you’re into supernatural thriller flicks.
As far as book adaptations go, this is almost a flawless adaptation. I say almost because Hill’s 30-page short story wouldn’t necessarily last the full run time of its 1 hour, 42 minute film equivalent. The short story begins when Finney, in the story his name is John Finney but his nickname is still Finney, when he’s abducted by the Grabber. I don’t know why the screenwriters decided to change his name around. My guess is to simplify it to the audience by replacing the nickname for his first name. It didn’t bother me, but it’s just one of those things about an adaptation that I’m always intrigued by.
The film goes deeper into the family life of Finney. The beginning part of the film builds up some of the other kidnapped children and also introduces Finney’s sister and father. The relationship between Finney and his sister Gwen is one of the better things in this film. The child actors are superb in their acting. Mason Thames plays Finney and Madeleine McGraw plays Gwen. The father, played by Jeremy Davies, also gives a great performance.
The Grabber is played by Ethan Hawke. In the short story, the guy is described as “grotesquely fat.”
“His head had been shaved to a glossy polish, and there were two plump folds of skin where his neck met the base of his skull,” writes Hill.
Obviously, Hawke doesn’t portray that character. He’s more of a creepy, normal build guy that wears a face mask with customizable pieces. There’s a top part and two bottom parts. You don’t see Hawke’s face for most of the film. The different faces of the mask show the audience what type of mood The Grabber is in.
If you’re a fan of Sinister (2012) you’ll notice several similarities in Derrickson’s cinematography style. You might also notice the subtle creepiness of the supernatural elements that he utilizes to effectively mix the supernatural with the thriller parts of the film.
Overall, this was one of my favorite films I’ve seen this year. It’s not the jump scare, slasher laden, horror film that most people associate with the genre. If you like ghosts, the paranormal, and a creepy Ethan Hawke in a devil horn mask, then I recommend this film.
Having said that, it is also my recommendation that you shouldn’t take your children to see this film. It’s rated R for violence, bloody images, language, and some drug use.
Sometimes the real world is more frightening than ghosts and demons. For that reason, if you’re triggered or sensitive to child violence, this film is a definite pass.