Starring Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke
Written by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill
Based on “The Black Phone” by Joe Hill
Directed by Scott Derrickson

It’s been a continual topic of discussion in many quarters for many years now: the distressing, bizzaro, consistently steady overall decline in the quality of the horror film in the 2000s. Yet, also continually, movie industry officials haven’t taken any smart, creative action to fix the problem.

The blame goes all around–studio suits, producers, directors, writers, even actors who
continue to take roles in these crappy films, even though they don’t need the work, and they should know better. For some set of modern-day filmic, cultural, show business and educational reasons, filmmakers have just generally lost the overall ability to consistently produce quality, inventive and entertaining horror, supernatural and paranormal films during the 2000s.

What we get instead is a steady stream of generally below-average, cliched, uninventive and overly depressing, dour, dark and violent movies. They’re all pretty much the same–to their disadvantage. And contributing to the decline, for reasons mainly connected to greed, is a moronic array and steady stream of incredibly bad remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, sequels and prequels in the horror genre.

It’s confounding, puzzling and depressing. It’s as depressing as the movies themselves.

Thus, in that context, it’s distressing once again to report that, yet again, another new horror film sadly fits in with this trend. And this one aligns perfectly with all of the genre’s current-problem checklist: overly bleak, dour, dark, depressing, cliched, uninventive and violent.

“The Black Phone” is, additionally, scattershot with its basic storytelling, not especially new or interesting, derivative, unpleasant and unnecessarily gloomy. And, to add to all of this, this movie comes from schlockmeister horror producer Jason Blum and his schlock-producing Blumhouse Productions.

“The Black Phone” tells the story of a serial kidnapper and murderer, known only as the Grabber in the movie, who kidnaps local teens in 1978 Denver, keeps them confined in a sparse and dark locked basement room in his house and eventually murders them. One day, the Grabber kidnaps the strong, independent and resourceful Finney Shaw, and the two subsequently engage in a psychological war of minds, taunting and interrogating each other, providing a window of possibility for Finney to plot, plan and execute a possible escape.

Meanwhile, while Finney is confined in the room, a disconnected black phone on the wall starts ringing, and Finney starts receiving calls from the beyond from several of the previously-killed victims. Also, Finney’s sister, Gwen, has premonitions in her dreams that help solve the abduction.

And Finney’s and Gwen’s father is a raging, nearly comatose, bately-functional alcoholic who beats his young daughter with a belt for talking about her dreams. And seemingly all the kids at school fight regularly, constantly, violently, with the viciousness and barbaric levels of homicidal maniacs. And one kid playing pinball gets in a vicious, horrendous fight with another kid simply because the second kids bumps into the pinball machine. And a character gets an axe in the head. And, in yet another fight, Gwen smashes a rock into the side of the head of a kid who is beating Finney.

You get the idea–most of the movie revels in a level of violence that is gratuitous, bloody, stark, stomach-wrenching and, much of the time, wholly unnecessary.

None of the disparate storylines connect in a cohesive, clear manner, and the entire, overall basic premise is so generally unpleasant and displeasing, the entire movie just slowly, steadily falls apart.

Thus, “The Black Phone” just becomes the latest sad entry in the continually increasing list of downer, dour, dark, distressing and disappointing horror movies littering the filmic landscape of the 2000s.

“The Black Phone” is one call you definitely don’t want to accept. It’s a big static-filled disconnect, and moviegoers may want to reverse the charges–ask for their money back–after seeing this one.

The best advice in regards to “The Black Phone” is to not not accept this movie call, and to hang up on the entire idea before the moviegoing even starts.


Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.