The Black Phone
Little Miss Penny got spayed today. I dropped her off before work and then picked her up after. When we got home, I swear she was giving me the stink eye. I'm hoping it's just the drugs she's on, but it's rough when your dog is giving you a, "Why did you do this to me?" look. My poor baby! But before I took her in, I checked out...
The Black Phone (2021)
I avoided this movie for the longest time. From what little I read of it, I thought it was just going to be a generic abduction story involving a guy in a crazy mask. I also never heard many people talk about it, but I had seen Ethan Hawke's performance praised. Every time I'd turn on Peacock to find something to watch, I'd see Hawke staring at me through that smiley mask. On a whim, I decided to check out the trailer and I'm so glad I did.
I loved this movie. It takes place in the late 70s as someone called "The Grabber" is snatching kids off the street and they're never heard from again. Despite the abductions, the people of the Denver suburb do their best to live normal lives. A young boy, Finney, gets bullied at school. He lives with his younger sister Gwen and their alcoholic father. Eventually, Finney gets taken by The Grabber and gets locked in a soundproof basement with a disconnected black, rotary phone in it. He then starts getting calls from past victims of The Grabber who give him advice and try to help him escape.
That's the movie in a nutshell, but let me talk about the characters that matter. "The Grabber" is played by Ethan Hawke, and oh my goodness, is he good in this. I can't remember seeing a creepier bad guy than The Grabber. From his voice, his mannerisms and the masks, everything about the guy makes your skin crawl, he is wonderful in the role.
Finney and Gwen's father, Terrence, is an interesting character. You see him as a drunk and a violent one at that, but as the movie goes on, you realize he's a broken man. He's played by Jeremy Davies, (Upham from Saving Private Ryan) and he is very good at playing vulnerable characters. He absolutely should not be treating his kids this way, but he's given up long ago and uses alcohol to cope and escape from the life around him. I don't want to go into the reason why he is the way he is, because it's such a sad scene that gets dumped on you right when you're actively hating the guy.
Finney is cool and the actor does a great job. He manages to keep his cool way better than I ever could in that same situation and you want him to survive. It's fun to watch him deal with his situation and try to escape while getting phone calls on a broken phone from dead kids. He's very likable and entertaining in a way no other character is in the movie.
Now, let's talk about Gwen. She's awesome. She's younger than Finney and is a big highlight. She's badass in a very natural way. At one point, Finney is being attacked by bullies and she immediately jumps into the fray smacking a kid in the face with a rock the size of her hand before the other bullies turn their attention to her. She's also psychic, which terrifies the father. She has dreams of Finney and even some of the victims. She is also responsible for my favorite scene in the movie. Before she goes to bed, she secretly prays for Jesus to send her more visions in her dreams. She wakes up the next morning, disappointed. She goes back to her dollhouse where she has different Christian objects along with a cross and she angrily yells, "Jesus? What the fuck?!"
It's so funny and unexpected to hear that come out of a young girl. She then apologizes but tries to catch Jesus with logic. She says something like, "I know you're not supposed to get involved, but giving me these dreams is getting involved!" It's a wonderfully hilarious scene and I can't say enough how great the foul-mouthed Gwen is. Normally I don't like kids being force-fed lines that no kids would say for shock value, but she was different. With her upbringing, you can see why she is the way she is and she is wonderful.
The tension ramps up at a slow, but steady pace and it keeps you guessing. One of the reasons The Grabber is so scary is you can't get a handle on him. For the longest time, it seems like there's no rhyme or reason for what he's doing. It's not until one of the phone calls and the movie switches to him sitting menacingly in a chair that you start to get an idea about this guy and it's terrifying. The movie doesn't let you get comfortable, even before things start happening there's a sense of unease lurking just beneath the surface that puts you on edge.
Let's talk about the ending without spoiling anything. I loved it. Everything the previous victims did to escape comes into play here. It's built so well that you have to appreciate the attention to detail. The conclusion to the fight between Finney and The Grabber is so satisfying. It's one of those moments where you want to stand and cheer.
As for my final thoughts, outside of The Grabber himself, there's nothing really scary about it. If you're expecting a straight horror, you may be disappointed. It's more of a paranormal thriller which I didn't know I needed.