There is a day from my childhood, I shall not soon forget. My brother and I were allowed to go outside to play. I was emphatically encouraged by Mommy to watch my him as he gleefully ripped up and down the street on his bike. As I was chatting it up with one of my friends, my brother didn’t seem to be anywhere in sight. I called out for him. Nothing. Looked around the neighborhood. Nothing. Now, I had to go tell Mommy I didn’t know where he was and prepare for the wrath on the other end. She trusted me, as his big sister, to keep him safe and somehow I had failed. At least that’s how I felt in the moment. As dusk descending upon us, law enforcement was involved. My Uncle just happened to be a cop, so he assisted in speeding things along with the search. My brother was eventually located at the Pillsbury plant, with no bike and scared.
That day was terrifying, but very easily could have a tragic ending. In those day, kids would disappear often and their faces would shortly appear on a milk cartoon or their story was profiled on ‘America’s Most Wanted.’ Dozens of films on child abduction have been released on the subject, yet rarely from the point of view of the child/victim vantage point as most never make it out alive. The few that have like Elizabeth Smart or Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus, who not only were abducted, but impregnated with a lasting reminder of a harrowing chapter. Most have chosen to share minimal details in order to maintain some sense of privacy and sanity of not reliving the most traumatic moment in their lives on a loop.
The Black Phone, based on a short story by Joe Hill, centers on Finney Shaw (Mason Thames) a shy and clever 13-year-old boy who’s being held in a soundproof basement by a sadistic, masked killer known around town as The Grabber (Ethan Hawke). When he discovers that a disconnected black phone on the wall rings, Finn can hear voices of the previously murdered victims, who are determined to make sure that Finn doesn’t meet the same fate.
You can always count on a Blumhouse production to have a touch of humor with a few jump out of your seat moments sprinkled throughout and The Black Phone does not disappoint. Although this is by no means a comical subject, breaking up the intensity with characters like Max (James Ransone) allow the film to make fun of those true crime junkies who think they can solve a crime better than the police or worse appoint themselves as part of the detective team. In Max’s case…it’s both. Director Scott Derrickson does something very subtle by placing the grabber out of focus moments before he strikes all of the kids except for Finn. That is the one moment he allows audiences to witness just how cunning these types of individuals can be whilst luring their prey. The opening montage of the many young children who have been missing is creepy, yet makes a powerful strong statement setting up the premise of this film.
All of the kids were fabulous. However, Mason Thames (Finney) and Madeline McGraw (Gwen) are spectacular to watch as their breadth of skills navigating such emotionally wrought material is executed with such maturity and skill. Thames and McGraw pretty much carry the film and I’m not mad about any of that. Ethan Hawke, may have been a bit under utilized, but is a bone-chilling as they come as The Grabber and fully grasps the mental complexity and warped child like sensibility associated with psychopathics of this nature pulling the audience in hook, line and sinker.
One of the most exciting scenes to watch is Finney taking control of his fate with complete confidence and in essence taking back his power and his life.
Produced by Universal Pictures in tandem with Blumhouse Productions, The Black Phone is a reminder to keep a watchful eye over our young ones, yet arm them with mental and physical tools to fight for themselves when necessary using every fiber of their body, mind and soul…even if the souls are those of the untimely departed.