With his portrayal as Arthur Harrow from “Moon Knight,” as well as his performance as The Grabber from “The Black Phone,” Ethan Hawke has had a recent villainous streak, proving that he really works playing the bad guy.
“The Black Phone” takes place in a suburb of Denver, Colo., in 1978, where there have been a series of child abductions by a shadowy figure known as The Grabber (Hawke). We follow Finney (Mason Thames) and his sister, Gwen Shaw (Madeleine McGraw), who endure the abuse of their alcoholic father (Jeremy Davies) as well as bullies from school. Thankfully, Finney had a fearless friend at school named Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora), who sticks up for him, fighting the school’s bullies.
But all goes awry when Robin is kidnapped by The Grabber, and soon Finney is next. He finds himself trapped in a basement with a black rotary phone that has had its wire cut, that serves as a means for him to connect with the spirits of The Grabber’s past victims, who advise Finney on how to escape. The Grabber only kills his victims in a very specific way, by playing a twisted game called Naughty Boy, and if Finney doesn’t play, he can’t lose.
Also on his side is the fact that his sister, like their deceased mother, gets realistic visions in her head relevant to the case. They are so trusted that the police confide in her to see if she can uncover anything on the killer.
The real star of the film is Hawke. His charm is so unnerving, as he uses it to lure his victims in and gain their trust, but he can snap at a moment’s notice. He is the only reason that there is any sort of tension in this film, as Hawke makes The Grabber seem like a real threat, especially to a child, and his unpredictable nature will keep you on your toes.
The child actor performances where good all-around, though only Hawke overcomes the shortcomings of the script. “Doctor Strange” director Scott Derrickson directed this film, and while the film is mostly fine, without Hawke’s excellent performance the film would be uninspired and dull. As it it, it does drag and its direction feels mostly flat, and the film’s runtime could’ve easily been trimmed by at least 30 minutes — it really feels like the film was stretched so it would be more than one hour.
In all, “The Black Phone” has some very good performances from its child actors and a great performance from Hawke, but the rest of it is either cheap or serviceable filler that’s become common in a lot of Blumhouse’s other productions.
“The Black Phone” gets a 7/10