Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill penned the script for The Black Phone, which he directed and produced with Jason Blum in 2021.
It’s based on Joe Hill’s short story of the same name, which first appeared in 2004. The film stars Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, James Ransone, and Ethan Hawke.
Youngster Thames is kidnapped in the film, and he uses a mysterious phone to contact the other people who have been kidnapped by his captor Hawke.
Because of scheduling conflicts, Derrickson was unable to direct Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but he and Cargill had already planned to make The Black Phone.
Two months were spent filming in and around Wilmington, North Carolina, and its surrounding counties. The film premiered at Fantastic Fest on September 25, 2021, and was theatrically released by Universal Pictures on June 24, 2022.
It has made $150 million at the box office and has been praised by critics for its performance and accuracy to the book.
In 1978, a serial child abductor nicknamed “The Grabber” prowls the streets of a Denver suburb. Finney and Gwen Blake and their alcoholic, violent fathers are local residents.
At school, Finney is frequently bullied and harassed. One of his friends at school, Robin, stands up to the bullies. Finney’s friend and classmate Bruce is kidnapped by the Grabber.
Bruce attended a different school. Gwen, who shares a gift for psychic dreams with her late mother, has a nightmare in which a man in a black van holding black balloons abducts Bruce.
Even after interviewing Gwen, detectives Wright and Miller have trouble believing her story. The Grabber kidnaps Robin and, a few days later, Finney as well. Finney comes to a basement with heavy soundproofing.
A broken black rotary phone is mounted on the wall, as confirmed by the Grabber. The phone rings a while later, and Finney picks it up.
The ghost of Bruce, who can’t recall his own name or the identity he had in life, tells Finney about a floor tile he can remove to create a tunnel out of the prison. The investigation into Finney’s disappearance has yielded no leads for the police.
The Grabber feeds Finney and leaves the basement unlocked. Finney gets ready to sneak out but is stopped by a phone call from another boy named Billy.
As he explains, the Grabber is just playing a game, and if Finney ventures out of the basement, he will use a belt to attack him from upstairs. To escape through the basement window, Billy tells him to use a cord he discovered.
Finney, in the process of ascending, smashes the window’s bars, rendering the latter inoperable. Gwen tells her dad that she has a dream in which Billy is kidnapped.
A strange man named Max is visiting the area with his brother, and Wright and Miller have a chat with him. In this episode, we learn that Finney is being held captive in Max’s basement and that the Grabber is actually Max’s brother.
It appears that the Grabber would have let Finney go if not for their heated exchange in which he tests Finney’s honesty. During their conversation, Finney and Griffin, another of his victims, exchange phone numbers.
Griffin tells Finney the Grabber has passed out in the upper room and reveals the combination to a lock. While the Grabber is distracted, Finney sneaks upstairs and unlocks the door. As Finney runs down the street, he is eventually caught.
Finney, discouraged by his failed attempt to flee, answers the phone to hear another victim, a punk named Vance. If Finney makes a hole in the wall and exits through the freezer on the other side, he can reach a connected storage room, as Vance explains.
After breaking into the freezer with a toilet tank lid, Finney finds that the door is locked. Another ring from Robin can be heard on the other end of the phone. He reassures Finney and urges him to take a stand and fight for what he believes in.
He tells Finney to stuff the phone’s receiver with the dirt he dug up to use as a weapon, then removes the receiver. Gwen has a nightmare in which the Grabber kidnaps Vance, and she later finds his property.
She tracks down the residence and gets in touch with Wright and Miller. When Max learns that Finney is being held captive in the house, he makes a beeline for the basement, where his brother awaits him with an ax.
After arriving at the house Gwen located, the police discover it to be deserted. They discover the Grabber’s victims, who were buried there in the basement.
After being attacked by Finney’s ax, the Grabber trips him with the cord and falls into the tunnel he dug, where his ankle breaks and becomes trapped between the window bars Finney set up at the tunnel’s base.
Before Finney kills the Grabber by severing his neck with the phone cord, the ghosts mock him on the line. Finney uses meat from the freezer to distract the guard dog, then uses the combination he discovered to escape the house.
The police arrive just as Finney leaves the house across the street from the cemetery to reunite with Gwen.
As their father arrives and expresses regret for his treatment, the sibling’s console one another. The next day, Finney sits next to his crush in class and tells her to call him Finn.
At the end of the film, Finney gets even with “The Grabber” by beating him with the phone, after being advised by Robin, another victim from Finney’s own school, to make the phone heavier by filling it with dirt.
Finney then uses the phone cord to sever The Grabber’s neck. In order to defeat “The Grabber,” Robin tells him to “stand up for himself” and use his “mint” arm.
Max James Ransone, The Grabber’s brother, discovers that his brother is the one who has been kidnapping and murdering children just before Finney launches his attack.
He had earlier presented his plan to the detectives who had arrived at his door, knocking. Throughout the film, drug addict Max follows the case, but he has no idea that his own brother is the killer.
In addition, Max had no clue that “The Grabber’s” basement, where he had hidden the boys, was located in the same building as his own.
Finney eventually musters the courage to stand up to The Grabber and escape his savage grasp. Now that he’s shown he can stand up to evil on his own, the bullies at school leave him alone and he’s able to go back to class.
Here, he is able to overcome his shyness and open up to the object of his affection. Even though similarities to films like “IT” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” may become glaringly obvious, “The Black Phone” does not cash in on the nostalgia for the 1970s and 1980s.
Even the jump scares are handled appropriately, with the screenplay relying on the human dynamics and the unsettling nature of violence and bullying to create horror rather than gratuitous gore.
Aspects of the film include Greek-like iconic imagery and clumsy thrills, but the film’s deeper message of bravery is what makes it stand out and what the horror genre needed for a long time.