Movie review: 'The Black Phone' a satisfying slice of dread-inducing terror

Mark Meszoros, The News-Herald (Willoughby, Ohio) on

Published in Entertainment News

Joe Hill grew up in an old house in Bangor, Maine, the basement of which was home to a disconnected phone he found “creepy and unsettling.”

It served as the inspiration for Hill’s short story “The Black Phone.”

“It didn’t make sense for a phone to be in a basement with a dirt floor and crumbling concrete walls,” Hill says in the production notes for the stress-inducing big-screen adaptation of “The Black Phone.” “As a kid, the worst thing I could imagine was that phone ringing.”

Well, it makes a little sense to us — that’s exactly how we would have pictured a basement of a house belonging to Stephen King.

If you haven’t figured it out, Hill is the son of the horror-fiction master and is, apparently, a chip off the old spooky block.

“The Black Phone” was included in Hill’s 2005 bestselling short story collection, “20th Century Ghosts,” and it caught the attention of writer-director Scott Derrickson before he even knew of the familial connection.


With the help of co-writer C. Robert Cargill — with whom Derrickson has collaborated on the “Sinister” (2012) and “Doctor Strange” (2016) — the filmmaker has turned “The Black Phone” into a feature-length story that pulls you in and fills you with the desired dread, even if, like most horror movies, it also irritates you with character choices here and there.

Set in the northern part of Denver in the late 1970s, “The Black Phone” concerns a mysterious figure who is believed to be snatching young teen boys off the street, earning the kidnapper the moniker “The Grabber.”

The Grabber is, we learn early on in “The Black Phone,” an amateur magician with a van filled with black balloons. He’s played adequately disturbingly by “Sinister” alum Ethan Hawke.

After his latest classmate is abducted, 13-year-old Finney (Mason Thames) asks his younger sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), if she thinks the police will find him.


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