When I first heard of The Black Phone, I thought it sounded generic. A young boy gets kidnapped and trapped in a basement by a masked killer, and his only link to the outside world is a phone.
The twist that makes this movie stand out from other “basement horrors” is who precisely the kid is talking to on the other end of that black phone. It turns out that all the voices from the phone are those of the killer’s previous victims. Check out the Black Phone movie trailer here:
The Black Phone received an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, which, considering its sparse marketing compared to other movies at the time, is pretty good. This movie was released by Blumhouse, which might as well be the standard for horror movies at this point. It’s got an outstanding track record specifically for horrors.
Ethan Hawke also hasn’t involved himself in the horror genre whatsoever. His most recent outing caught people’s attention in Robert Eggers’ The Northman, a Norse-themed take on Hamlet. He is more suited to dramatic roles, but he does bring that to the role of the killer in this movie. It changes the trapper from a silent, masked killer to someone with a realized personality that stands out. A closer look at his outfit gives him the vibe of a Western cowboy.
The Standout Horror of 2021
The Black Phone set the standard for slasher movies in 2021. It competed with films like Spiral and Malignant, which were more experimental in handling their twists. Spiral was a spiritual prequel to the Saw franchise, while Malignant, directed by James Wan, was full of plot twists and turned itself into a mystery movie more than anything else.
On the other hand, The Black Phone kept its story and scares straightforward. There was a single twist that caught audiences’ attention: the voices of the murderer’s victims were on the other end of the phone. But the predictability of the movie wasn’t a bad thing. It was fascinating to see a main character interact with ghosts instead of running away from them, and even more so to see the dead beings help the boy escape his dire situation. All these factors contributed to The Black Phone winning the Best Horror Film award at the HCA Film Awards.
A Horrific Adaptation
It’s not often that horror movies adapt books, but this is one that based itself on the story written by Joe Hill. Interestingly enough, The Black Phone was not the name of the original book. Joe Hill originally penned and published the story under 20th Century Ghosts. I found it interesting that both titles hint at different critical plot devices in the film. The Black Phone calls attention to the phone as a mystery and the key to escape, while 20th Century Ghosts hints more towards the ghosts behind the phone as the main plot point.
For any Stephen King fans, this book and its film adaptation are for you. It turns out that Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King himself, which explains the similar tone and pacing of the story. Hill has a different type of horror that focuses less on the existential and supernatural and more on what could happen in the real world. For instance, although there are multiple ghosts and spirits in this tale, it’s about a kid trapped in a basement by a psychopath who killed many other people in the same place.
After IT parts 1 and 2 were released, these smaller-scale, simple mystery horrors faded into the background. While this year has more horrors to come past the recently released Scream VI, 2022 had some fantastic horror films released which should be on your list to see this year. 2021 horrors are also readily available for streaming now. The Black Phone is now on Amazon Prime, so I’d recommend checking it out as soon as possible.