Denver, 1978. Thirteen-year-old Finney is an insecure suburban kid with a spunky younger sister, Gwen, and an alcoholic father. Several of his peers have recently disappeared—the locals believe it’s the work of a child abductor and killer dubbed “The Grabber.” When Finney encounters a strange man dressed as a clown, he’s helpless against becoming the Grabber’s next potential victim. Trapped in an anonymous, sound-blocked basement, his only distraction from hopelessness is a wall telephone, which he uses to talk with the ghosts of the Grabber’s previous kills. As Gwen spearheads rescue efforts on the outside, Finney realizes, thanks to the recently deceased’s collective wisdom, that his best chance for survival is to fight back.
Channeling the same elite-level dread felt in their 2012 hit Sinister, director/co-writer Scott Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill have adapted horror fiction master Joe Hill’s 2007 short story “The Black Phone” into superlative big-studio event horror. With expertly sprinkled-in moments of levity and endearing performances from Mason Thames and Madeline McGraw as Finney and Gwen, respectively, The Black Phone is as much of a crowd-pleaser as it is a bleak heartstopper. And with Ethan Hawke’s see-it-to-believe-it, against-type turn as the Grabber, it’s also home to horror’s scariest big-screen villain since Pennywise. —Matt Barone