The name—Stephen King—is not new in the world of literature. This legendary author has given us numerous horror, fantasy, and supernatural stories, many of which have also taken the shape of a full-length film. Nevertheless, following in his father’s footsteps, Joe Hill too published several successful novels and short stories over the years, one of which has been adapted into the 2022 film “The Black Phone” under the same name.
Directed and written by Scott Derickson, “The Black Phone” is a horror/thriller and is a story about friendship, siblings’ love, and self-realization, which is smartly conveyed in a thriller plot. “The Black Phone” also talks about bullying at school and abuse from alcoholic parents, which has also been one of the primary elements that one would find common in most of Stephen King’s writings.
What Happens In ‘The Black Phone’ Film?
The film is set in 1978 in a Denver suburb and opens with a baseball match where the protagonist, Finney, was able to achieve two strikes, but, unfortunately was hit for a home run by the striker, Bruce Yamada. Anyway, after the game, Bruce comes to Finney and appreciates his pitching, which was something very new for Finney, as he was only used to getting bullied by his peers. Next, Bruce, who was cycling around in his neighborhood, gets kidnapped in a black van by a kidnapper who was popularly referred to by the name “The Grabber.” Back at home, Finney’s life was not easy for him either because of his abusive alcoholic father, Terrence, who often beat him and his sister Gwen. Terrence is a widowed man, and his cruelty has somehow made Finney and Gwen grow protective of each other.
The cases of children’s kidnapping have increased in Finney’s town, and after the disappearance of Bruce, two investigating officers, Wright and Miller, visit the school to question Gwen. Interestingly, just like her late mother, Gwen also had psychic powers where she could see things that were going to happen or had already happened. That said, Gwen had dreamt about Bruce’s disappearance, which she told her friend and Bruce’s sister, Amy Yamada. The detectives tell her that they have found two black balloons at the site of the crime, just the kind she told Amy and wanted to know how she knew about it. Gwen tried to convince them of her dream-coming-true abilities, but all in vain.
Soon, another boy gets Kidnapped from the town, and this time it is Finney’s best friend, Robin. Now having Robin out of the picture, some of Finney’s rivals attack him while he is on his way to school. After seeing his brother being beaten up, Gwen tries to rescue him and successfully injures one of the boys. However, she herself gets hurt in the process. The same day, after bidding goodbye to his sister, who had a sleepover plan at her friend’s place, Finney walks back to his house but unfortunately becomes the next victim of The Grabber.
‘The Black Phone’ Ending Explained: Is the Grabber Dead or Alive?
The Grabber takes the unconscious body of Finney and puts him on a bed kept in the dark, empty basement of his house. He was furious because of the sharp wound that he had got in his arm caused by Finney while he was defending himself. However, The Grabber assured Finney that he wouldn’t hurt him and would explain his motive behind the kidnapping. The Grabber also tells Finney that the basement is soundproof and that it won’t work if he shouts for help.
After the Grabber leaves, Finney looks around the room and searches for any escape possibilities, but realizes that he won’t be able to escape from there ever. The room also had a black phone hung on the wall, and its wires had been cut off; hence it was of no use to Finney. Despite this, he heard the phone ringing a couple of times, but unfortunately, nobody answered from the other side. The Grabber had told him that the phone had not worked since he was a kid and might have rung because of some static energy.
On the other hand, Gwen starts to pray helplessly for her brother’s well-being and wishes for his safe return. Additionally, she began to dream about her brother’s and others’ kidnapping incidents in bits and pieces. As Finney was lying on the bed, the phone rang again, but this time a boy spoke. The boy couldn’t remember his name, but Finney understood that it was Bruce Yamada from his voice. He tells him about a dirt section on the floor in the hallway with loose tiles and asks him to dig a hole in the ground to escape.
Finney did the same and began digging a hole, which he covered with a rug in the bathroom. Next, the Grabber walks into the basement with some breakfast but surprisingly forgets to close it while on his way out. Seeing it, as Finney decides to escape from the door, the phone rings again. This time it was Billy Showalter, whom Finney remembered as the newspaper boy. Billy tells him that he shouldn’t dare to escape from the main door as it was a trap by the Grabber, who is waiting with a belt upstairs.
Meanwhile, unable to locate her brother from the clues she got from her dreams, Gwen reaches out to her dad for help and convinces him to go on a search with her. Additionally, police had increased their kidnapper-hunt investigation fourfold but still couldn’t get any leads.
Next, Linney receives a call from Billy. He guides him towards a cable that he was hiding under a gap between the wall and the floor across the bed. Finney finds the cable and uses it to reach out to a small window in the basement, but eventually fails to escape. After two failed attempts at escape, Finney receives a third call from another boy named Griffin Staggs. Griffin tells him that the Grabber likes to play Naughty Boy with his hostages and only hurts them when they try to escape. Since he has not tried to escape yet, it has made him restless, and he can’t move to the next step without punishing his victims. Griffin further informs him that the Grabber has fallen asleep waiting for him, and he can now escape the house. He tells him that the main door is locked with a combination lock that the kidnapper had taken from his bike when he abducted him. Griffin had scribbled down the lock’s code on the wall, which Finney successfully located and eventually escaped. However, in the process, Finney alerts Grabber’s dog, which wakes Grabber up, and he somehow manages to recapture Finney.
As Finney was thrown back to the basement, he received yet another call, and it was from Vance Hopper, whom Finney used to fear a lot because of his short-tempered behavior. Next, we see a flashback from Finney’s memory with Vance Hopper in it, who mercilessly beats a few boys for silly reasons. The memory somehow transforms into Gwen’s dream, and she sees the house of the Grabber with house no. 7741. Nevertheless, back into reality, Vance tells Finney that there is an outlet near the commode, and if he could break the wall, it would lead him to a storeroom through a freezer. Following his instruction, Finney breaks the wall, only to find that the freezer door is locked. This failed attempt breaks Finney down, and he bursts into tears and begins to lose all his hopes.
Lastly, he receives a call from his best friend, Robin. Robin motivates him to escape and fight with Grabber on behalf of his dead peers. He asks him to fill the phone receiver with dirt to make it heavy and attack the Grabber with it when he comes. After the call, Finney prepares a trap and waits for the Grabber to come. Meanwhile, Gwen, who was tirelessly searching for house no. 7741, finally locates it. She rushes back home, informs the police about it, and tells them it could be where the Grabber might have kept her brother.
Grabber’s druggy brother, Max, who was also trying to develop his own theory to find the culprit, somehow figured out that his brother was the kidnapper. He looks for a basement and eventually finds Finney, held hostage in his brother’s house, where he had been living. Unfortunately, the Grabber shows up and kills Max with an ax. He calls his dog and ties it at the door so that Finney doesn’t escape while he tries to kill him. However, as the Grabber tries to attack Finney, he trips over the trap that Finney had set with the cable, falls down into the hole in the hallway, and breaks his ankle. Finney attacks the Grabber and hits him repeatedly with the phone’s receiver before breaking his neck. Finney brings the meatloaf he found in the freezer and uses it to trick the dog into opening the door. On the other hand, after getting a tip from Gwen, the police reach the said house and find the bodies of the victims buried in the basement of that place. The investigators concluded that it was the house where the Grabber used to bury his victims after killing them.
As Finney comes out of the house, he sees Gwen waiting for him outside house number 7741, which, in fact, was located across the street from where the hostages were kept. In a press conference, police revealed that the Grabber had two houses in front of each other, one for burying the dead victims and the other for holding the victim hostage. After Grabber’s death, everything goes back to normal. Finney becomes the most popular kid in his school after defeating the Grabber. He is now a confident kid and finally gathers the strength to sit down beside his crush.
What Does The Film Signify?
“The Black Phone” depicts child abuse, bullying at school, the crazy mindset of a psychopath killer, and the power of friendship. It showed how the trauma of losing someone very close to you could adversely affect you both positively and negatively. Terrence, who had lost his wife to suicide, turned into a cruel, alcoholic father who used to beat his children. However, the man completely transforms into a better person after his son gets kidnapped. Maybe the fear of losing one more crucial person in his life changed him.
Finney had no real friendship with the victims except for Robin. Yet, compassion for their friend Finney eventually brought all of them together to help him defeat the Grabber. Also, in the end, an unconfident Finney fighting for his freedom depicts the reality of the world, telling us that you are the only one who has to stand up for yourself in order to overcome the odds in life.
Despite the fact that “The Black Phone” never revealed the motive behind the Grabber’s crime. However, based on the fact that he was only targeting kids, it explains that it might be the result of a traumatic childhood he might have had. Maybe he, too, suffered from severe child abuse, bullying, and mental trauma from his peers or at home that eventually turned him into a monster who had no mercy on anyone, especially kids.
Although “The Black Phone” is categorized in the horror/thriller genre, if that’s why you picked up this film to watch, it might disappoint you. Let us look into different aspects of the film, which would make it easy for you to decide if you want to watch it.
Screenplay: Director Scott Derickson has done a nice job of introducing the characters at the beginning of the film before actually jumping into the action. The placement of every scene is apt, and you won’t get confused at any point. However, there are some scenes that do not serve any purpose, and it felt like they were only added to give some length to the film. Most of the scenes revolve around Finney and his sister Gwen, which gives us a hint that the success of the whole film was on their shoulders. As expected, the kids have nailed the acting department, and nowhere in the film does it appear to be Finney’s (played by Mason Thomas) debut film. The kind of sibling chemistry that Finney and Gwen show in the film makes you believe that they are actually brother and sister. The other cast, such as the Grabber, played by Ethan Hawke, and Terrence, played by Jeremy Davies, have also done a great job adding an element of cruelty that the film needed.
Despite being a horror/thriller film, the story didn’t require a typical horror-themed background score to keep the audience on edge. However, there were a few instances that might bring a shiver down your spine.