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The Black Phone is a 2021 American coming-of-age supernatural horror film[4] directed by Scott Derrickson and written by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, who both produced with Jason Blum. It is an adaptation of the 2004 short story of the same name by Joe Hill. The film stars Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, James Ransone, and Ethan Hawke. In the film, an abducted teenager (Thames) uses a mysterious telephone to communicate with the previous victims of his captor (Hawke).

The Black Phone
The Black Phone.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byScott Derrickson
Screenplay by
Based on"The Black Phone"
by Joe Hill
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyBrett Jutkiewicz
Edited byFrédéric Thoraval
Music byMark Korven
Production
companies
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release dates
  • September 25, 2021 (2021-09-25) (Fantastic Fest)
  • June 24, 2022 (2022-06-24) (United States)
Running time
103 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$16–18 million
Box office$150.1 million[2][3]

Derrickson's departure from directing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness led him to The Black Phone, a project he and Cargill had already planned on making. Filming took two months in Wilmington and surrounding counties in the state of North Carolina. The film premiered at Fantastic Fest on September 25, 2021, and was theatrically released by Universal Pictures on June 24, 2022. It has grossed $150 million and received generally positive reviews from critics for its performances and faithfulness to the source material.

Plot

In 1978, a serial child abductor nicknamed "The Grabber" prowls the streets of a Denver suburb. Siblings Finney and Gwen Blake live in the area with their abusive, alcoholic father. At school, Finney is frequently bullied and harassed. He has a friendship with a classmate, Robin, who fends off the bullies. A boy from another school that Finney knew, Bruce, is abducted by the Grabber. Gwen, who has psychic dreams much like her late mother, dreams of Bruce's kidnapping and sees that he was taken by a man in a black van with black balloons. Detectives Wright and Miller interview Gwen but struggle to believe her claims. The Grabber abducts Robin, as well as Finney days later. Finney awakens in a soundproofed basement. On the wall is a disconnected black rotary phone that the Grabber says does not work. Later, Finney hears the phone ring and answers it. Bruce's ghost, unable to remember his own name or who he was when he was alive, tells Finney about a floor tile he can remove to dig a tunnel to escape.

The police search for Finney is unsuccessful. The Grabber brings Finney food and leaves the door to the basement unlocked. Finney prepares to sneak out but is stopped by another boy on the phone called Billy. He explains this is a game that the Grabber plays, and he is waiting upstairs to attack Finney with a belt if he leaves the basement. Billy instructs him to use a cord Billy found to get out via the basement window. While climbing Finney breaks the bars on the window, preventing him from climbing back up. Gwen dreams of Billy being abducted and confides in her father about what is happening.

Wright and Miller speak to an eccentric man called Max who is staying in the area with his brother. It is revealed Finney is being held in Max's basement, of which he is unaware, and the Grabber is his brother. After an agitated exchange with the Grabber, where he tests Finney's honesty, he makes it seem as if he would have let Finney go. Finney speaks to another one of his victims, Griffin, on the phone. Griffin shows Finney a combination to a lock and informs him that the Grabber has fallen asleep upstairs. Finney sneaks upstairs and unlocks the door but the Grabber's dog alerts him to Finney's escape. Finney flees down the street but is recaptured.

Despondent over his failed escape attempt, Finney answers the phone to hear another victim, a punk called Vance whom Finney was scared of. Vance informs Finney of a connecting storage room he can escape through if he breaks a hole in the wall and exits through the freezer on the other side of the wall. Finney creates a hole with a toilet tank cover and enters the back of the freezer only to discover that the freezer door is locked. The phone rings one more time with Robin at the end of the line. He comforts Finney and encourages him to finally stand up and fight for himself. He instructs Finney to remove the phone receiver and pack it with the dirt he had dug up to use as a weapon.

Gwen dreams of Vance's abduction and discovers the property of the Grabber. She finds the house and contacts Wright and Miller. Max realizes Finney is being held in the house and rushes to the basement to free him, but his brother kills him with an axe. The police rush to the house that Gwen found but find it is empty. In the basement, they find the buried bodies of the Grabber's victims. The Grabber attacks Finney with the axe, but Finney manages to trip the Grabber with the cord, causing him to fall into the tunnel Finney dug, where the Grabber breaks and traps his ankle in the window bars placed at the bottom. The ghosts taunt the Grabber over the phone before Finney breaks his neck with the phone cord, killing him. Finney distracts the guard dog with meat from the freezer and escapes the house using the combination he learned. Finney exits the house across the street from the gravesites where he reunites with Gwen and the police rush to the property. The siblings comfort each other as their father arrives and apologizes for his treatment. Back at school, a confident Finney sits next to his crush in class.

Cast

 
Ethan Hawke stars in The Black Phone as The Grabber.
  • Mason Thames as Finney, a young student captured by The Grabber
  • Madeleine McGraw as Gwen, Finney's sister experiencing psychic dreams
  • Ethan Hawke as The Grabber, a child kidnapper and serial killer
  • Jeremy Davies as Terrence, Finney and Gwen's alcoholic and abusive widower father
  • E. Roger Mitchell as Detective Wright
  • Troy Rudeseal as Detective Miller
  • James Ransone as Max, the Grabber's eccentric brother
  • Miguel Cazarez Mora as Robin, Finney's friend who becomes a victim of the Grabber

Additionally, Rebecca Clarke portrays Donna, Finney's crush. J. Gaven Wilde, Spencer Fitzgerald, Jordan Isaiah White, and Brady Ryan portray the school bullies, Moose, Buzz, Matty, and Matt. Tristan Pravong, Jacob Moran, Brady Hepner, and Banks Repeta portray the Grabber's previous victims, Bruce, Billy, Vance, and Griffin.

Production

Scott Derrickson and frequent collaborator C. Robert Cargill decided to adapt Joe Hill's short story "The Black Phone" into a feature film while the former was working on the Doctor Strange sequel Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Cargill promised to postpone the project until Derrickson, who had a commitment with Marvel Studios, became available to direct. In January 2020, Derrickson came on board to helm The Black Phone soon after departing from the Doctor Strange sequel due to creative differences.[5][6]

The Black Phone was officially announced in October, with child actors Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw set to star.[7][8] Thames said his audition took place over Zoom soon after the COVID-19 pandemic began: "It was quite weird and we had bad Wi-Fi. I'd say a line and it would take a few seconds for them to say something back. It got a bit awkward. Eventually I got a callback."[9] In early 2021, Jeremy Davies,[10] Ethan Hawke,[11] and James Ransone were added to the cast.[12] Hawke said he was initially hesitant on playing the villain because he did not want to be remembered for a "scary" performance for the rest of his career, but changed his mind after realizing he was in his 50s. "Villains might be my future", he added.[13]

The film was shot on a $16–18 million budget.[14][15] Principal photography began on February 9, 2021, and concluded on March 27.[16][17] Filming took place at EUE/Screen Gems in Wilmington, North Carolina, and around the counties of New Hanover, Brunswick, and Columbus, under the working title Static.[18][19][20] Mark Korven composed the score during post-production,[21] and the film was completed by December 2021.[9]

For the construction of the film, Derrickson was inspired by the films The 400 Blows (1959), The Devil's Backbone (2001), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and the novel A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.[22]

Marketing

 
The Grabber's appearance was compared to Lon Chaney's character from London After Midnight.

The marketing campaign from Universal Pictures for The Black Phone began with the release of a trailer on August 25, 2021, at CinemaCon.[23] Variety said the film looked "scarier than the COVID-19 delta variant" and called it "the next possible franchise for Universal and Blumhouse."[24] Screen Rant described the reactions to the trailer at CinemaCon as "intense".[25] The film's poster was released on September 25, 2021. Screen Rant found it to be "terrifying" and said it would be "interesting to see if the film lives up to the hype".[25] Collider said the mask in the poster evoked Lon Chaney's character from London After Midnight (1927).[26] MovieWeb said the poster would "be behind your eyelids as you fall asleep tonight. ... we won't be able to see Ethan Hawke again without thinking of him as the terrifying and twisted Grabber. I've heard tell of his 'no villains rule', but clearly he's thrown that out the window."[27] The trailer was released online on October 13, 2021. It was described by Vulture as a "stranger danger PSA".[28] The A.V. Club said it looked like Hawke was "having a ball as the Pennywise-meets-Wonka child killer."[29]

Release

Theatrical

The Black Phone was theatrically released in the United States by Universal Pictures on June 24, 2022.[30] It was originally set for release on January 28 and later February 4 before being delayed again to June 24.[30][31][32] The film had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest on September 25, 2021.[33] It also closed the Overlook Film Festival on June 5 and screened at the Tribeca Festival on June 18.[34][35]

Home media

The Black Phone was released for digital purchase and rental on July 14, 2022, and will be available to stream on Universal's Peacock website 45 days after its theatrical debut.[36]

Reception

Box office

As of August 11, 2022, The Black Phone has grossed $86.7 million in the United States and Canada, and $63.4 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $150.1 million.[2][3]

In the US and Canada, The Black Phone was released alongside Elvis, and was projected to gross $15–20 million from 3,150 theaters in its opening weekend.[37] The film made $10.2 million on its first day, including $3 million from Thursday night previews. It went on to make $23.6 million, finishing fourth at the box office, and an additional $12.5 million from 45 international markets for a $35.8 million global debut.[38][39] Women made up 51% of the US and Canadian audience during its opening, with those in the age range of 18–34 (its target audience[14]) comprising 64% of ticket sales and those below 25 comprising 53%.[40] In its second weekend in the two territories, the film made $12.2 million (a drop of 48%), and $14.2 million over the four-day Independence Day weekend, finishing fifth.[41][42]

Critical response

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 83% of 243 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 7.0/10. The website's consensus reads, "The Black Phone might have been even more frightening, but it remains an entertaining, well-acted adaptation of scarily good source material."[43] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 65 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[44] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak gave the film an 86% overall positive score, with 67% saying they would definitely recommend it.[40]

Screen Rant described the critical response as generally positive, with some criticism for the pacing and "number of scares" but praise for its faithfulness to the source material, Derrickson's direction, and Hawke's performance.[45] Heidi Venable of CinemaBlend agreed, pointing out reviews complimenting the child actors, musical score, and screenplay, and wrote, "It sounds like this Joe Hill adaptation should please moviegoers, as long as audiences know they're in for something deeper than just tried-and-true jump scares."[46]

Accolades

YearAwardCategoryNominee(s)ResultRef.
2022Hollywood Critics Association Midseason Film AwardsBest HorrorThe Black PhoneNominated[47]
Saturn AwardsBest Horror FilmThe Black PhonePending[48]
Best Supporting Actor in a FilmEthan HawkePending
Best WritingScott Derrickson and C. Robert CargillPending
Best Younger Actor in a FilmMadeleine McGrawPending
Mason ThamesPending

Potential sequel

In June 2022, Derrickson said Hill had pitched him a "wonderful idea" for a sequel that he would do if the first film was successful.[49]

References

  1. ^ "The Black Phone (15)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved June 24, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
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  3. ^ a b "The Black Phone". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  4. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette (June 23, 2022). "The Black Phone Review: The Dead Have Your Number". The New York Times. Retrieved August 1, 2022.
  5. ^ Reyes, Mike (May 25, 2021). "Doctor Strange 2: Why Scott Derrickson And C. Robert Cargill Left The Marvel Sequel". CinemaBlend. Archived from the original on May 26, 2021. Retrieved May 29, 2021.
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  10. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (January 13, 2021). "Jeremy Davies Joins Scott Derrickson Blumhouse Film The Black Phone". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on January 13, 2021. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
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External links