Terror calls on The Black Phone

Ethan Hawke in The Black Phone (Universal Pictures)

There is an ugly masked face in the promotion for The Black Phone. It looks like a horror film, but it is more of a terror film. Source: Jesuit Media.

Horror suggests blood and gore, impossible, beyond this world situations. Terror, on the other hand, has situations that we can identify with an emphasis on psychological not physical violence.

Director Scott Derrickson has made a number of interesting films over the decades, sometimes with religious implications (he studied theology at university): Exorcism of Emily Rose, the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Sinister and the exorcism film, Deliver us from Evil.

The setting for The Black Phone is Denver, 1978. Several children have disappeared, feared abducted by a villain nicknamed by the media The Grabber.

Finney (Thames), 13, is being bullied at school and treated brutally at home by his father (Davies), unable to stand up for himself. He is strongly supported by his younger sister, Gwen (strong screen presence by McGraw). But here is where something mysterious happens.

While Gwen prays to Jesus for the children to be found (and when she is upset with Jesus she gives him quite a crass tongue lashing), she also has dreams about the children, about the abduction, visionary and fearful dreams. The police interrogate Gwen to her father’s anger.

Finney is abducted and at last we see The Grabber with his monstrous mask. He confines Finney to a harsh basement. The audience has to share in Finney’s terror, as the 13-year-old tries to deal with The Grabber (Hawke).

And the black phone? It is in the basement, disconnected but with a mystery of its own.

Reviewed by Fr Peter Malone MSC 28 July 2022

The Black Phone: Starring Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Davies, E. Roger Mitchell, James Ransone, Miguel Cazarez Mora. Directed by Scott Derrickson. 103 minutes. Rated MA (Strong themes, violence and coarse language)

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The Black Phone Jesuit Media) 

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