google playGoogle
app storeiOS
settings icon
profile icon

The Black Phone movie review: Ethan Hawke's terrifying turn will keep you shaking in fear till the end

The only problem with the film is that the darned trailer gives away more than it needs to.

  • Manisha Lakhe

Last Updated: 04.12 AM, Jun 22, 2022

The Black Phone movie review: Ethan Hawke's terrifying turn will keep you shaking in fear till the end
Ethan Hawke in a still from The Black Phone

A shy thirteen-year-old lad called Finney is the latest in a string of missing kids in Denver. While the police and the neighbours are searching for the missing kids, Finney is imprisoned in a soundproof basement by a creepy psychopath. Does he manage to escape? Why and how does the disconnected black phone ring?


They said The Conjuring was so scary they had ambulances waiting by the theatres ready to help. They said the clown will creep you out. They said the cat is not really dead, is it? They said the baby has a number on his head…

And we loved them all, didn’t we? The red balloon does float in and out of your dreams, and you think you hear someone clap from inside the closet where you keep empty suitcases, and you can hear the cat hiss on the dark street where you live. Even when Bollywood attempts to scare us with lemons and sindoor and the undead, we watch. But this film is more like a psychological game of cat and mouse between a lad who has been kidnapped and the masked kidnapper.

Kidnapped and dumped in a basement, you can hear the nonchalance and the menace in the kidnapper’s voice when he says, ‘Don’t waste your breath screaming. I soundproofed the room myself.’

The boy has seen bullies at school and at home. So his fear actually helps him. He doesn’t do anything foolish that might get him into more trouble. Does the kidnapper get careless and leave the door unlocked by mistake? Or is it a trap?

The first jump scare will actually make you spill all the popcorn. Thankfully, the man with curly hair sitting in the seat in front of yours truly did not feel the caramel popcorn in his hair. Phew!

Back to the jump scare: a shot so unexpected in the film that has so far even this lover of horror and gore was taken aback. And that’s a huge admission. It’s what you will call a ‘paisa vasool moment’. But after that unexpected scare, you sit back with a smile plastered on your face (under the mask) because the film just gets better and better.

Very quickly, after the title card that says ‘Denver 1978’ we are drawn to this suburb where the teens are dealing with school and home. Finney and his sister Gwen share a relationship that is so amazing, you will wish you were that close with your siblings. Gwen, played wonderfully by Madeleine McGraw, will make you smile (her foul-mouthed, ‘You dumb f***king fartknockers!’ made the audience guffaw out loud, breaking the tension built because we’ve seen kids get taken, kids bullied, and more… Mason Thames is a quiet actor, and you'll like his vulnerability. 

The drunk angry dad is played by a wonderful actor Jeremy Davies (won an Emmy for his role as Dicky Bennett in the show Justified), and you will look away when he is violent. What a great character in the film…  

After all, writer Joe Hill has horror in his genes (he’s the son of the god of all things horror: Stephen King). And Scott Derrickson has a filmography that includes great horror films (The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us From Evil among them). This combination works beautifully when we start believing that the disconnected phone is actually ringing. And gentle Finney who is stuck in the basement, is a clever lad, thinking up (or is being given hints by…) ways to get out of the basement alive. You will believe that he is actually being helped by various characters (are they really there, your logical mind will ask) because they made such a brilliant, believable film!  

The black balloons that you see in the trailer are the weakest link in the film. Everything else, including the music by Mark Korven is stupendous. The score keeps you riveted to the screen, and the violence - when it erupts - makes you hold your breath. Ethan Hawke has been a heartthrob ever since girls learnt to romanticise films like Before Sunrise, but true fans will recognise his talent in First Reformed (as a grown up) and Dead Poets Society (as a young lad). In this movie he is so creepy as the ‘Grabber’, you feel goosebumps that make you shiver every time he says anything, especially, ‘I was really starting to like you…’


This is such a good film, it will make you fear for the young boy who has been kidnapped. It will make you terrified of the kidnapper, and you want to throw things at the man who’s come in with a soda and what looks like an omelette. You will love Finney’s sister and how she’s quick to anger. The only problem with the film? The darned trailer gives away more than it needs to.