The Black Phone was probably the horror film I was most excited for this year. Based on a Joe Hill short story and directed by Scott Derrickson, one of my favorite recent horror films, Sinister, it seemed to have everything going for it. I was also thrilled with it.
And yet, I did not.
A series of kidnappings in West Denver, England, have been carried out, but no one seems to change their daily routines. Perhaps because our primary kids, Finney (Mason Thames) and Gwen (Madeleine McGraw, are dealing with an abusive, alcoholic father, and neighborhood bullies. They cant be worried about The Grabber (Ethan Hawke), as the news outlets have dubbed him getting his grubby paws on them.
The Grabber is driving around in a black Abracadabra-branded minivan and conceals a canister of gasoline he uses to knock out his victim. When Finney wakes, he is in a soundproofed basement with only a bare mattress, a toilet, several rolled-up rugs, and a disconnected black phone on the wall.
Although the phone is disconnected, there are still rings on the other end, and there are still ghosts of Finney''s children. They all offer various advice on how to escape, but none of them work. Gwen''s psychic gifts were a gift from her mother, who died herself over her own gifts. It felt like an apresthought, or a dreadful red herring.
Finney spent most of his time alone, in a basement. He didn''t even touch him. He had no fear of anyone. He had virtually no contact with Finney at all. It was mostly Finney and the ghosts of deceased children trying to figure a route out.
On top of that, we never knew anything about The Grabber. We were not talking about his motivation, but we understood nothing. I want to know more about him when he was kidnapped and murdered adolescent boys. What he does, however, is that the mask, which he keeps in place, is because he believes that is the reason why he was so aggressive. How does he choose his victims? Is it a roiling murder?
The Black Phone has very few classic lines, but they come in the third act, but before that, it is a lot of nothing. Talking. No cat-and-mouse chasing. No killing. Not even any suspense. You know Finney has been kidnapped; you know who he has taken him; you know that the previous kids are dead.
I''ll say that the things came up at the end, but I won''t say anything more for fear of spoiling it. But boy, it was a struggle getting there.