The Black Phone Reviews Are In, See What Critics Are Saying About Ethan Hawke's New Horror Flick

Ethan Hawke as The Grabber in The Black Phone.
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Horror fans have been anticipating The Black Phone’s arrival to the big screen. The adaptation of the 1994 short story of the same name by Joe Hill reunites Sinister director Scott Derrickson with Ethan Hawke as the leading man. Hawke plays the masked villain The Grabber, who takes young teen Finney (Mason Thame) as his latest victim. Critics have had a chance to screen the Blumhouse horror ahead of its June 24 release, so let’s check out what they have to say.

The titular black phone comes into play as The Grabber locks Finney in a cell that has a disconnected black rotary phone. The story takes a supernatural turn when Finney realizes he can hear the voices of the antagonist's previous victims over the phone and, meanwhile, his sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), uses her psychic visions to try to find her brother. Let’s take a look at what the critics think of the movie, starting with CinemaBlend’s review of The Black Phone. Corey Chichizola rates the horror 4.5 stars out of 5, saying that Scott Derrickson is a horror master, and this film proves it:

It’s so easy for a horror movie to not totally stick the landing, enough that fans like myself are sometimes willing to accept it after hours of scares. But The Black Phone’s finale shows why the genre is continuing to have such a moment at the box office. Overall, The Black Phone is everything you want in a horror movie: terrifying, thrilling, and delivering an ending you won't forget.

Mike Manalo of Nerds of Color would seemingly agree with the above assessment, grading the movie an A-. This review praises everything from the acting — both in the leading and supporting roles — to the score in what is so much more than your typical horror flick. It should be lauded as more of a coming-of-age blockbuster:

As such, I simply cannot recommend The Black Phone enough. It’s Scott Derrickson’s best film to date, the best ghost story put to film since The Sixth Sense, and one of my favorite films of the year. I urge anyone looking for just a really good and solid movie to seek it out, but be warned, it may not be the jump-scare filled cheese fest many other horror films are. This is smartly done, emotional horror, and also a very somber, but ultimately hopeful film that will have you fully engaged from the first frame to the last.

For at least one critic, however, the fantastical side of the plot did not add to the horror, but detracted from it. Owen Gleiberman of Variety says the movie feels more like a dark cousin to the comic book world, and he doesn’t find it particularly scary:

The Black Phone carries you along on its own terms — that is, if you accept that it’s less an ingenious freak-out of a thriller than a kind of stylized contraption. It’s a horror ride that holds you, and it should have no trouble carving out an audience, but I didn’t find it particularly scary (the three or four jump-worthy moments are all shock cuts with booms on the soundtrack — the oldest trick in the book). The movie plays a game with the audience, rooting the action in tropes of fantasy and revenge that are supposed to up the stakes, but that in this case mostly lower them.

Matthew Mahler of MovieWeb agrees that horror fans looking for a straight scare fest might be a little disappointed, but this thriller is a dark and well-executed look at childhood and violence. The critic says director Scott Derrickson makes the story feel personal, which is effective because of how good Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw are in their roles:

The young Mason Thames leads the proceedings as Finney and does an incredible job, even when he has practically nothing to work with, alone in a sparse basement. His resolution and arc from cowardice to courage is perfectly expressed despite his surprisingly stoic face. Madeleine McGraw might just be the best part of The Black Phone as Gwen, a delightful combination of precociousness and innocence, suffering and strength. Whether she's incongruously cussing out Jesus in her otherwise sweet prayers or fighting with her father, the young actor explodes in every scene she's in.

Sam Stone of CBR says Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill’s expansion of acclaimed author Joe Hill’s short story is a success. They took a 30-page story and gave the characters a backstory and added to their emotional depth, which was executed well on the back end by The Black Phone’s talented cast.

Derrickson excels at evoking the late '70s era throughout the movie without making it feel gimmicky or arbitrary. From the choices in fashion and interior decor to the music, Derrickson makes this feel like a familiar, lived-in world, with the Grabber personifying something of a suburban nightmare come to life. Derrickson and co-writer Cargill, who also produces the film, have expanded the lean source material into a large, terrifying world. Hill's story is all killer, no filler, running for about thirty pages. The Black Phone adaptation is nearly two hours long, giving its main characters more backstory and emotional depth while making its villain all the more twisted.

It sounds like this Joe Hill adaptation should please moviegoers, as long as audiences know they’re in for something deeper than just tried-and-true jump scares. The Black Phone is set to hit theaters on Friday, June 24 and will be available for streaming with a Peacock Premium subscription on Monday, August 8. In the meantime, start planning your next trip to the theater by checking out CinemaBlend's schedule 2022 movie releases to see what’s coming soon.

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Heidi Venable is a Content Producer for CinemaBlend, a mom of two and a hard-core '90s kid. She started freelancing for CinemaBlend in 2020 and officially came on board in 2021. Her job entails writing news stories and TV reactions from some of her favorite prime-time shows like Grey's Anatomy and The Bachelor. She graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in Journalism and worked in the newspaper industry for almost two decades in multiple roles including Sports Editor, Page Designer and Online Editor. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.