The Black Phone
By Jeffrey Anderson,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Violent but effective horror tale about kidnapped teens.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The themes here are rather dark; even the idea of "learn to stand up for yourself" inevitably involves violence. It's a violent world, and the only way to handle it is to be more violent than others. The movie ends in a way that suggests that things have been made better through violence.
Positive Role Models
Some of the supporting characters are admirable. Teen ballplayer Bruce projects kindness and confidence, and Robin is strong and smart -- she gets into fights but follows a method and protects the weaker kids. Although the killer gets them both, their short time onscreen feels fairly positive. Gwen also has notable qualities -- she's extremely strong-willed and always does what she thinks is right, regardless of the consequences.
Positive portrayals of Asian and Latino teens, but both are supporting characters and are killed by the villain. Someone calls the Latino character a "beaner." Other actors of color appear in smaller roles, i.e. one of a pair of police detectives and a high school principal. Gwen is a powerful, smart teen girl.
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Violence & Scariness
Young girl brutally whipped by father with a belt; she screams and sobs. Brutal fights involving bullying: punching, kicking, slamming, martial arts. Teen hit in head with rock, leading to a wound gushing blood. Young girl punched in face, bleeding mouth. Teen punched in face over and over until face covered in blood. Switchblade, carving flesh. Teen kidnapped, kicking, fighting; he's sprayed in eyes and mouth with something from a spray can. Teen tackled, knife held to throat. Teen punched hard, knocked cold. Teens murdered offscreen. Teens in peril. Character punched with blunt object over and over again. Character's head sliced open with axe; blood spurts. Person strangled. Bandaging bloody knuckles. Broken ankle. Sliced-open arm. Jump-scares. Ghostly images. Fall from window.
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Multiple uses of "f--k," "c---sucker," "motherf----r," "s--t," "dips--t," "c--t," "a--hole," "a--face," "son of a bitch," "hell," "damn," "d--kweed," "puta," "f-g," "beaner," "jerkface," "fartknocker," "dumb." Middle-finger gesture. "Holy Mary, Mother of God."
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Products & Purchases
1970s-era Lemon Sprite served to main character.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Secondary character appears to have a drinking problem; passes out drunk in the evenings, with empty bottles all over house. Supporting character sniffs cocaine. Brief social drinking at ballgame.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Black Phone is a horror movie about a kidnapped teen (Mason Thames) who gets supernatural help while trying to escape from his maniacal kidnapper. It's a solid, visceral thriller, albeit one that's full of peril and violence involving young teens. There are scenes of brutal, bloody bullying, including bashing a head with a rock, use of a switchblade, punching, kicking, martial arts, and face-punching. Adults also attack kids: There's a whipping with a belt, a teen boy being abducted (and something sprayed in his face), and a teen getting tackled, being threatened with a knife, and knocked him unconscious. Teens are murdered offscreen. There are also jump-scares and some spooky stuff. Frequent strong language includes "f--k," "c---sucker," "s--t," "c--t," "a--hole," and more. A secondary character appears to have an alcohol dependency, passing out in his chair and leaving bottles everywhere.
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The Black Phone
Based on 22 parent reviews
Dark and intense thriller following a kidnapped teen is violent and heavy on the language
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Great movie for teens plus
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What's the Story?
In THE BLACK PHONE, it's 1978 in Denver. Local boys have been disappearing, never to be found. Thirteen-year-old Finney (Mason Thames) is frequently bullied at school, even though his firecracker younger sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) sticks up for him. Gwen has clairvoyant powers and sometimes dreams about "The Grabber" (Ethan Hawke), who kidnaps the boys and leaves behind black balloons. Meanwhile, Finney befriends tough, smart Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora) and is given a brief reprieve from those who target him. Unfortunately, Robin also disappears, soon followed by Finney himself. Trapped in a concrete room, Finney starts getting mysterious calls on a broken black phone. With help from the voices on the other line and his sister's dreams, Finney begins to attempt his escape.
Is It Any Good?
This tense horror movie seems a little tentative about how far to go with its subject of child kidnapping/murder, but it still delivers genuinely brutal tension via its vivid characters. Based on a short story by Stephen King's son Joe Hill (Horns, NOS4A2, Locke & Key), The Black Phone takes its time before putting Finney in the concrete room, trying to humanize the victims as much as possible. Director Scott Derrickson seems to want viewers to feel the impact of death, but not too strongly. The movie frequently retreats into humor; a scene with a hyped-up, paranoid James Ransone is a hoot, and McGraw -- who plays young Gwennie -- amuses with her colorful insults.
Another small issue is Finn himself. He's introduced as a brilliant baseball pitcher, staring down batters with a fearsome glare before throwing perfect strikes. Given that context, it makes little sense for him to be so meek and passive later. As a result, The Black Phone can feel somewhat shapeless. But once Finn is in the room, his interactions with a scenery-chewing Hawke, as well as the voices on the phone, start to build into something worth watching. Derrickson offers up a couple of spine-tingling moments, as well as suspenseful races-against-time that will make viewers' palms slick with cold sweat. The final moments are savage in their violence, but it's also cathartic and primal. All in all, this one's worth picking up.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about The Black Phone's violence. How did it make you feel? Was it exciting? Shocking? What did the movie show or not show to achieve this effect? Why is that important?
Is the movie scary? What's the appeal of horror movies? Why do people sometimes like to be scared?
How far should a movie go in depicting bullying and teen violence? Did this one go too far? Could it have gone farther?
How relevant is the movie's message that "you need to learn to stand up for yourself"? Does that lesson/skill need to include violence? Why, or why not?
- In theaters: June 24, 2022
- On DVD or streaming: August 16, 2022
- Cast: Mason Thames, Ethan Hawke, Madeleine McGraw
- Director: Scott Derrickson
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, bloody images, language and some drug use.
- Last updated: December 28, 2022
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