Check the Caller ID on The Black Phone First

The Stream: It takes too long to get to the meat of the story.

The Big Screen: Some decent jump scares and tense moments.

The Final Bill: A horror/thriller where it is not really scary, but it does hook you in with a cool concept.

– Trip Fontaine
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill
Stars: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke, and Jeremy Davies
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for violence, bloody images, language and some drug use
Runtime: 1 hour 39 minutes
Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Crooked Highway
Platform: In Theaters
Trailers: Nope, Beast, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Don’t Worry Darling, Fall, Vengeance

I know everyone is going to see Thor: Love and Thunder this weekend or catching up on Top Gun: Maverick or Jurassic World Dominion; but, if you’re done with all of the IP and franchises, The Black Phone is an alternative, original movie that you can escape the heat in a cool theater. Okay, The Black Phone, though not based on a Stephen King story, is a little Stephen-King derivative, but it’s definitely better than that other Stephen King movie that came out in May, Firestarter. Here’s how the call on the black phone went.

The Black Phone takes place in the late 1970’s in a suburb of Denver. There has been a rash of kidnappings of teenage boys in the area by a mysterious man called “The Grabber.” Finney and Gwen are brother and sister dealing with their father, who is an alcoholic, and they’re all still grieving the death of their mother. Finney is dealing with bullies at school while Gwen has burgeoning visions. Of course, Finney gets snatched by The Grabber on a fateful afternoon and stashed in his basement with the titular black phone. Supernatural hijinks ensue as Finney works to free himself and Gwen tries to rescue her brother.

Is The Black Phone scary? Well, it has its moments. There are jump scares that are pretty good, but they are few and far between. The scariest part of it all may be the idea that someone could be in your otherwise quiet neighborhood snatching up little kids. Also, the masks worn by The Grabber, which are featured prominently in the movie, are creepy and menacing. Other than that, I’d liken The Black Phone to something like The Sixth Sense – not really scary but you see dead people.

Is The Black Phone thrilling? I guess, sure. The main point of the movie is to find out whether Finney will escape or be rescued before The Grabber makes him end up like the other boys. There is enough tension created by the looming presence of Ethan Hawke as the Grabber that makes the movie creepy and tense. Gwen played by Madeleine McGraw has a lot of urgency in her scenes – as ridiculous as they may be but, the extreme emotion she puts into her performance heightens her portions of the movie. Finney played by Mason Thames does a good job in getting you to care whether Finney gets free. While Gwen is feisty and easy to root for, Finney is thoughtful and sensitive, so you want him to survive too.

I’d say the biggest problem with The Black Phone is that it takes too long to get to the actual black phone. There’s a potentially interesting concept that this movie is built around and it takes like 40 minutes to get to it. Also, once the black phone is introduced, it is used pretty sparingly. It’s good that the brother-sister dynamic and the strong performances by those child actors is enough to carry the movie. So, the lack of reliance on the black phone is less of a disappointment than it could be.

S2S: Official Rating Scale

For someone looking to cool off in a theater and they don’t want to see another franchise movie, they could do worse than The Black Phone. It is a tense, occasionally scary movie with an interesting concept. The child actors give good performances that get the audience invested. Get a bowl of popcorn for a matinee and cower in the theater for a bit.