Movie Review: The Black Phone (2021)

Synopsis: While walking home from school in 1978, Finney is abducted by a serial killer known as the Grabber and locked in a basement cell. With escape seemingly impossible, Finney accepts the fact he will likely die until he receives a series of calls on a non-working phone in his cell from the Grabber's previous victims.

Who's in it? The movie stars Mason Thames, Ethan Hawke, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies and E. Roger Mitchell.

Review: My wife and I saw the trailer for this movie some time ago and were immediately interested in seeing it. This interest was renewed recently when one of her friends said she saw it and described it as the most terrifying movie they've seen. We finally watched it last night and, while I definitely disagreed about the "terrifying movie" part (her friend apparently needs to see more horror films), did think it was an OK movie.

I think the thing I like best about this movie is the mystery surrounding the Grabber (Hawke). He seemed like  a guy who had one heck of a backstory but the filmmakers decided not to share it. That decision worked for this film because the lack of information made his character a whole lot less predictable, especially since we didn't know his motivation. In fact, for a while, my wife and I wondered if there would be some sort of twist that would result in him being a good guy trying to protect Finney (Thames) from someone much worse.

Other than a couple jump scares, I really wouldn't describe this film as scary (maybe a little creepy at best). However, the supernatural element did make the movie unique and interesting, especially when he would receive a variety of advice ranging from "dig a hole" to "try to escape while he's asleep," without any clue about how that advice would turn out (especially since it didn't work for the victims themselves). 

Of course, that advice probably wouldn't have been needed if Finney had any survival instinct at all. I, for one, would never have walked up to a stranger with a black van when several of my friends had been abducted (and why were the parents even letting their kids walk home alone with the abductions happening?). Oh, and I'm sure there were knives in that kitchen, giving him an opportunity to kill (or at least seriously wound) his abductor in his sleep rather than trying not to wake him while opening a combination lock. Between him not looking for a weapon then running away in a straight line within easy reach of the street/the Grabber's van, it was almost as though he didn't really want to escape.

I'm a bit undecided about the subplot involving his sister's (McGraw) psychic powers. It seemed like a little bit of overkill, especially given the already supernatural nature of the movie. Plus, I don't feel like it really paid off at the end considering the ghosts did a lot more for him than she did.

I also kind of felt like their dad (Davies) was supposed to have more of a role in the film. The movie goes through a lot of effort to show him as an abusive alcoholic but never really does anything with it even though, in some ways, he was almost as bad as the Grabber (maybe even worse). Frankly, I wasn't a big fan of the filmmakers' decision not to give him some sort of comeuppance at the end since I'm not so sure Finney and his sister were any better off returning home to him.

Final Opinion: Overall, I thought it was a good movie. However, it did fall a bit short of being a good horror film and I do feel like the film leaves some loose ends with Finney and his abusive dad.

My Grade: B+


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