Actor Ethan Hawke has finally stepped into his first role as an evil character. It’s taken 30 odd years to get to that darkest of places and in “The Black Phone” he plays a serial killer that’s memorable, and his mask is disturbing and curious.
His character is referred to as the Grabber, who kidnaps teenage boys and then does unspeakable things to them. Cruising around in a black, ’70s van with the word Abracadabra written on the side of it. Abracadabra is an Aramaic phrase ‘avra kehdabra,’ meaning “I will create as I speak” and when he jumps out of the vehicle to snatch his victims off the street, he wears a magician’s hat or carries black balloons.
Inside his home, we understand the full horror attached to the grand mask, which has removable sections appearing to be chiseled in stone. The mask seems to have moods, sometimes offering a leering smile, other times a frown, and sometimes he chooses to wear only the lower half of it.
The movie is set in 1978, in North Denver where we meet Finney (Mason Thames), the cute 13-year-old hero who loves playing with his Little League team.
Finney and his spunky little sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), discuss who’s the most popular on the television series “Happy Days” all in all, sharing with us their innocent life inside a safe community.
But in reality, there have been five teenagers, all boys, yanked off the streets by the Grabber. We realize soon that Finney’s days are numbered and soon he’s thrown into the Grabber’s dungeon which is a concrete, soundproof bunker which only has a dirty mattress. His only vista is of the corroded walls that are marked with rusty, horizontal cracks that remind the viewer of wounds.
The meat of the film is about Finney’s attempt to escape. He develops a kind of relationship with the Grabber who gives him food and hints at the terrible things to come.
Meanwhile, Gwen has a dream that gives important details about the killer, highlighting the fact that he keeps his black balloons inside his van. Directed by Scott Derrickson (“Doctor Strange”) he pushes into the adapted short story (written by Joe Hill) to give the audience a serial-killer flick that almost feels like a comic-book world but with some supernatural touches which drive the story.
In “The Black Phone,” the Grabber isn’t atypical of what we expect from evil characters. That being said, Hawke works with what he has used that creepy mask to his advantage.
In the bunker, there is an old, black rotary telephone that hangs on the wall. Despite being told that the phone doesn’t work, Finney hears it ringing, and each time he answers it, the voice on the other end is…no spoiler alerts but it’s an interesting twist.
Finney picks up quickly, gathering clues about the Grabber, building his case and finding the weak points of the bunker’s infrastructure. Suddenly, this kid realizes that he can and should fight back.
“The Black Phone” is a horror ride, suspenseful and just creepy enough to hold your attention.
“The Black Phone” is in theaters on June 24, 2022.